DO NOT BE PUT OFF by this subject. You may think it unpractical or speculative. It is neither. It concerns the future that God has offered to you and me. It’s a subject on which the Bible speaks plainly.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; 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 (1 Corinthians 15:41–44).
So says the Apostle Paul when he is explaining about the ‘resurrection of the dead’, which is to happen at the return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish the Kingdom of God. He continues:
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven (vs. 45–47).
Adam and Christ
We are all children of Adam, the first man. He was created very good, but he fell from grace and became a sinful dying creature (Genesis 3). We know all too well what it is to be children of Adam—weak, unclean and dying. But God has extended to us the opportunity to exchange our inheritance of death through Adam for another inheritance—life through Jesus Christ, whom Paul refers to as ‘the last Adam’ and ‘the second man’.
As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (vs. 48–49).
When Jesus returns there will be a resurrection of many dead people, and a judgement (of those who have been raised and also of many who are still living at the time). ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Daniel 12:2). Those who find grace at the judgement will be changed. Jesus says they will be given a nature like angels (Matthew 22:30). Paul expresses it thus:
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50–53).
The nature that will be given to those whom Christ welcomes as his friends when he returns is something beyond our comprehension, but see how Paul describes it in the few verses we’ve looked at: imperishable; glorious; powerful.
This is how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah describes it: ‘He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken’ (Isaiah 25:8).
We have seen that we are not talking of a ghost or a shadow, something immaterial or invisible. We are talking of people with real tangible bodies. The Apostle John tells us that when Christ returns, ‘we shall be like him’ (1 John 3:2). Paul explains that he ‘will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21). The simple and glorious truth is that those who are accepted at the judgement will be made like Christ himself.
We are told plainly what this means. The body that was crucified at Calvary was the body that was put in Joseph’s tomb (Matthew 27:57–60), and that came out alive on the morning of the third day (Matthew 28:1–10). When Jesus appeared alive to his disciples, it was unmistakably as an actual physical man: ‘And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”’ (Luke 24:38–39).
Here was Jesus, after his resurrection, possessing flesh and bones. After 40 days he visibly left the earth in the presence of his disciples, and they were told by two angels, ‘“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven”’ (Acts 1:11).
So Jesus is a real physical person possessing flesh and bones—he was when he emerged from the tomb, he will be when he returns, and he is now.
Several years after his departure to heaven, Jesus appeared to Paul as a brilliant light from heaven (Acts 9:1–5). This glory was glimpsed earlier by the disciples Peter, James and John during his ministry at the Transfiguration, when ‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light’ (Matthew 17:2). He is a living illustration of what a spiritual body is—a body which has been transformed so that it is charged with the spiritual life-power of God, glorious, powerful, perfect. A body which is as tangible as the bodies which you and I possess now, but incorruptible.
The Glorious Gospel
Is it not a glorious Gospel that gives us such a prospect? Think on it. You will find that the destiny which the Bible offers is more wonderful than anything we could dream of. It is not the migration of a disembodied immortal soul, or reincarnation to another life of pain and trouble, but the commencement of a glorious eternal physical life when the world is restored to paradise. Of this destiny that awaits the faithful, the most blessed moments of our present life are but a pale taste.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54–57).
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