2. The Resurrection Of The Body, (cont.)
The same passage from the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians to which we already referred above in proof of the identity of the resurrection body and our present body, may also inform us with respect to the difference between the two. It teaches us, first of all, that through the resurrection our bodies will be delivered from all the effects of sin and death: “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.” vss. 42, 43.
Our present bodies are “in corruption”. In the sphere of corruption they exist. By this we mean that they are corruptible from within, and that they are subject to forces of corruption from without. In our present world that is under the curse, there are several forces of corruption that tend to destroy the organism of our body. All kinds of tiny bacterial organisms find their way into our lungs and bloodstream from without and disintegrate the body. And the latter is subject to them. For the body is corruptible. It cannot successfully resist their destroying power. Even the science of medicine, bent upon discovering these disease germs and upon counteracting their corrupting influence in the body, in last analysis, stands helpless over against them. It cannot fight death. This process of corruption has its inception at birth. For “in corruption” we are born. It continues during the whole of our earthly life, so that “dying we die.” In many different diseases it reveals itself in various ways. And it is finally completed when the body gives up the struggle against these forces of destruction, and is entrusted to the grave, where the Word of God is fulfilled literally: dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return. Indeed, “it is sown in corruption.” In the sphere of corruption we are brought into the world. “In corruption” we exist as long as we live. Corruption we breathe, eat, and drink. And “in corruption” we are buried.
But it is raised in “incorruption.” The body of the resurrection is subject to these powers of corruption no more. It is immune. It has the victory. Incorruptible it is. Nor is there in the kingdom of God any power of corruption from without. The inheritance that is preserved in heaven for us is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”. There will be no disease germs in the eternal kingdom. In the sphere of incorruption, in which no one shall ever say anymore “I am sick,” the body will be raised. For it will be made like unto the glorious body of Christ. It is beyond the possibility of corruption. In the resurrection death has no dominion. It can never enter there in any form. Hence, “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” .
But there is more.
“It is sown in weakness.” In part, this is already implied in the corruptibility of our body. But it expresses this idea from a slightly different viewpoint. It means that our bodies have but limited strength, and that they must succumb to death even apart from the forces of corruption that violently destroy them. The measure of that strength is “threescore and ten,” or “fourscore years.”. “As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so it flourisheth.” . And, indeed, when the blasting wind passeth over it, it is gone. But even when the hot wind does not violently break its tender stem, it cannot last. For a while it blooms, but its vitality is limited: soon it loses its beauty, and it withers away. Thus it is with man in his present state. The strength of his physical organism is limited. And there is nothing to renew it. In the first paradise there was the tree of life from which he might eat and perpetuate his existence. But from it he was separated. And in the present world there is neither “tree or life,” nor “fountain of youth,” by means of which he may renew his strength. He is like a candle that burns itsef out. For a while he may appear in youthful strength, but soon he begins to bend under the burden of years, and he inclines toward the grave. The “evil days come,” and “the years draw nigh” in which he says: “I have no pleasure in them.” The sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; the keepers of the house tremble, the strong men bow themselves, the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the window are darkened; the doors are shut in the streets, the sound of the grinding is low; he rises up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low, he is afraid of that which is high, and fears are in the way; the almond tree flourishes, the grasshopper is a burden, and the desire fails. All this reveals the weakness of the body, and leads to the day when the silver cord is loosed, the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher is broken at the fountain, the wheel is broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth. . Our earthly house collapses over our head. For “it is sown in weakness.”
However, it is raised in power. The body of the resurrection shall never be wanting in strength. It draws from a source of unlimited power and vitality. It will not gradually deteriorate. It shall renew its youth like the eagles. Always there will be strength for the task. Just as in the resurrection no one shall every say: “I am sick”, so no one shall ever complain of being weary or exhausted. The source of this ever renewed and ever youthful strength is the risen Lord. With Him the risen saints are united. From Him, who is the Son of God, they draw their power. In everlasting youth they shall stand in the house of God to serve Him day and night.
Thirdly, “it is sown in dishonor.” The present body is without its original glory and beauty. No longer is it an instrument for the reflection of the image of God. Sin and death, corruption and disease, have left their marks on its appearance. As an instrument of unrighteousness it is in dishonor. It is fundamentally ugly. The truth of this becomes more and more apparent as old age approaches. By many artificial means men, and especially women, attempt to give their bodies a superficial beauty. And even the repulsiveness of the dead body in the coffin is covered, to an extent, by the undertaker’s art. But all these attempts are vain. We know and, by all these superficial attempts to beautify the body, confess that “it is sown in dishonor,” And all our aprons of fig leaves cannot hide the fact that it has lost its original beauty and glory.
Through the wonder of the resurrection, however, it will attain to glory. All the effects of sin and death will be erased from its appearance, and it will be clothed with a perfection of beauty that is far greater than the glory it enjoyed in the state of original righteousness. For it will be made like unto the most glorious body of Christ. The image of the heavenly iu will reflect. As an everlasting instrument of righteousness and holiness, it will serve the manifestation of the likeness of the Son of God. It is raised in glory.
But there is still another difference between our present body and that of the resurrection.
To this the apostle refers when he writes: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
Already we remarked that “spiritual body” must not be understood as in opposition to “material body.” In the text, it stands over against “natural.” And the literal rendering of the word that is translated “natural” is psychical. Our present body is psychical, by which we understand that it is adapted to serve as the instrument of our present, earthly soul. For “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.” Through his present body man lives an earthly life. He is strictly limited to the earthly sphere of existence. He has an earthly eye, and perceives earthly things; an earthly ear to catch earthly sounds. He is bound to the earth, and craves food and drink. Spiritual realities he cannot perceive, nor have direct communion with them. The heavenly things are hid from him. Even in as far as he can know about them and apprehend them in his present earthly, psychical state, he can do so only through the means of earthly symbols. Through the Word that is heard with our physical ear we have knowledge of and fellowship with God, and apprehend spiritual and heavenly things. And that Word addresses us in earthly terms. On the earthly plane of our present “psychical” existence God reveals Himself to us. In anthropomorphistic symbols He speaks to us concerning Himself. We cannot see Him face to face. Even the risen Lord, in His glorious body, must “appear” to His disciples in order to convince them of the reality of His resurrection. Angels and heavenly things lie beyond the scope of our experience. We have an earthly soul, and in our “psychical” body we live an earthly life. And with regard to things spiritual and heavenly, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” we walk by faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for, not by sight.
“It is sown a natural body.”
But “it is raised a spiritual body.” The body of the resurrection will be wholly subservient to our glorified spirit, and to the indwelling spirit of Christ. By it we will be able to inherit the kingdom of God, which flesh and blood cannot inherit. In that new and eternal kingdom we shall see God face to face, we shall behold Christ and always be with Him, and we shall have direct contact and fellowship with the things that are heavenly. With new eyes we shall see the things that are now unseen, and with spiritual ears we shall apprehend the things that now lie beyond the scope of our hearing. For “there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 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 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. 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.”.
Such is the glorious resurrection.
It is the reunion of the glorified spirits of the saints with their glorified bodies, in the heavenly sphere of incorruption, power, glory, immortality, and spiritual things, to inherit the kingdom of God.
3. The “Millennium”.
In the Apostolicum, there follows immediately upon the article concerning the resurrection of the body that about eternal life: “And the life everlasting.” The Catechism explains this article as follows: “That since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life, I shall inherit perfect salvation, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, and that, to praise God therein forever.”
No room is left here for the millennium theory. According to the view of the Chiliasts, we must expect, first, the coming of the Lord in the rapture together with the “first resurrection”; shortly afterward, the coming of the Lord in the revelation and the resurrection of the “tribulation saints”; thereupon, the glorious reign of the Lord upon the earth in the millennium; and finally, the resurrection of the wicked, the last judgment, and the eternal state.
In our explanation of the nineteenth Lord’s Day, we offered a partial criticism of this view. In this connection, it may not be superfluous to make a remark or two about the expectation of a millennium, or a glorious reign of the Lord, with His saints, upon the earth, for a thousand years.
According to premillennialists, this millennium is to be a reign of Christ upon the earth, not on the new earth in the new creation, but upon this present old earth. Christ is to return, after the great tribulation, bind Satan and overthrow his power, destroy all ungodly government, and establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace for all the nations of the earth. He shall reign in person, with the Church, sitting on the throne of David, with Jerusalem, which shall be restored to its former glory, as its capital, and in the midst of His kingdom-people Israel, the Jews, that shall be converted and regathered in the land of their fathers. And all the nations of the world shall enjoy a period of peace and blessedness under the dominion of the King of kings.
In a work of this nature, we cannot give space to a detailed examination of all the Scriptural passages upon which this theory is supposed to be based.
Suffice it to say, first of all, that we, too, believe in a literal return of the Lord, when He shall destroy Satan and all the powers of darkness, establish His own dominion, and reign with His people over all the works of God’s hands. Premillennialists frequently assume the attitude that they only believe in the second coming. This is absurd. But we believe in only one coming, at the end of the world. We believe that, at that coming, the present world will be destroyed, its fashion shall pass away; new heavens and a new earth will be created, and in that new creation Christ shall reign, and we will reign with Him, on the new earth, under the new heaven, and that, too, not for a thousand years, but for ever and ever. We believe the coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
Secondly, in general it may be remarked that many of the passages in Scripture which, according to the premillennialists, teach the millennium, simply have reference to the everlasting kingdom of glory that shall be ushered in at the second coming of our Lord.
But it might be well to look a little more closely into the Scriptural passage that, on the surface, appears to speak literally of the millennium. I have reference, of course, to the passage in the twentieth chapter of the book of Revelation. This may be called the locus classicus of the millenialists. The very term millennium, i.e., thousand year period, is derived from this passage. The question now is, whether this passage actually teaches that Christ shall reign, with His saints, in their resurrection bodies, for the period of a thousand years, on this old, unrenewed earth.
Our answer is emphatically that it does not.
For this answer we offer the following grounds:
1. The highly apocalyptic character of the book of Revelation forbids us to read this passage as if it simply literally recorded what shall take place. It was in the vision that John “saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season/’ No one, not even the premillenialist, thinks of applying a so-called method of literal interpretation to these words. In fact, a strictly literal interpretation would refute the very theory which the Chiliast seeks to establish. If this passage is to be read as history, it follows that the so-called millennium commenced at the time when John saw the vision on Patmos, for he saw an angel come down and bind, the devil at that very moment. No one insists upon such a literal interpretation of the passage. What we have here is a vision, a highly apocalyptic vision. And a vision dare not be interpreted as if it were a mere foretelling of events as they shall actually take place. It would not be interpreting the passage, but doing violence to Scripture, if we should paraphrase this passage as follows: “Then shall an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand, and he shall bind the devil a thousand years.” Such a paraphrasing of the text entirely disregards the fact that the passage is in the form of a vision.