First Corinthians 15--The resurrection dispute, part 2
Sep 13, 2017
Jesus appeared to the disciples in a physical body that still bore the marks of crucifixion. He ate with them to drive home this very point, because, as Luke says, they thought they were seeing a spirit. Jesus then says, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you” (Luke 24:44). In other words, this is what I was talking about during My earthly ministry.
Gathering up the Fragments of His Body
When had Jesus taught them about the resurrection of the body? There were many types and shadows which taught the resurrection obscurely, such as when He fed the 5,000 and the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of fragments (or left-overs). John 6:12, 13 says,
12 And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.” 13 And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.
In the explanation of this prophetic story later in the chapter, Jesus made it clear that He Himself was this bread that was to be broken to feed the multitude. Then in John 6:39 He says,
39 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
The fragments of the bread, then, represent the body of Christ, which is raised up on the last day, so that nothing is lost. This resurrection principle extends beyond Jesus’ own physical body, because in John 6:40 He continues, saying,
40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
This terminology is repeated in John 6:44 and again in John 6:54. However, the text does not specify the manner of resurrection. It only gives the timing as being “on the last day.” Verse 40 also says that these believers will receive “eternal life,” which in Greek reads “aionian life.” The Emphatic Diaglott renders this “life age-lasting.” Better, it refers to immortal life in The Age, that is, in the Messianic Age to come.
However, in all of this, we are not told specifically the manner of resurrection. Some would argue that this does not prove a bodily resurrection yet to come. But Jesus’ post-resurrection statement in Luke 24:44 about His bodily resurrection gives us the key to understanding all such resurrection revelations during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The God of the Living
When the Sadducees posed their hypothetical situation about a woman being married to seven brothers, all of whom die in succession, they asked Him, “In the resurrection therefore, whose wife of the seven shall she be?” This was their argument against a bodily resurrection. Jesus refuted them and then went on to say in Matthew 22:31, 32,
31 But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Some have interpreted this in a way that essentially agreed with the Sadducees’ position that believers go to heaven when they die, and that therefore there is no need for a bodily resurrection. But that is not the case. First, we must understand that mankind is not composed of body and spiritual soul (as the Greeks thought), but rather are body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The soul is distinct from the spirit. The law tells us in Leviticus 17:11 (literally) that “the fleshly soul is in the blood.” Hence, the soul is not spiritual, but fleshly, or carnal.
We have three seats of consciousness, or three minds. The brain is the mind of the body; that which we normally refer to as the “mind” is the carnal soulish mind; the spirit has its own spiritual mind that knows the mind of God perfectly (1 Corinthians 2:14, 15). When a person dies, he becomes “brain dead,” and the soul dies with it. Hence, Ezekiel 18:20 says literally, “The soul that sins shall die.”
However, the mind of the spirit does not die, nor does it lose consciousness. Instead, it “returns to God” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
So we see in the example of Jesus Himself, His body died and was placed in the tomb. His soul went to hades (Acts 2:31), or “the grave,” as the word is translated in 1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV. His spirit went to God (Luke 23:46). Death is a return, so each of Jesus’ three parts went to a different place, according to their origins. Not only does this show that we are spirit, soul, and body, but it also shows that the spirit does not lose its consciousness when the body and soul die.
In that sense, we can say that “we” go to heaven when we die, as long as we understand that it is not the soul, but the spirit that returns to God. The soul is mortal; the spirit is immortal. With this in mind, Jesus told the Sadducees that God was not the God of the dead but of the living. He did not mean that Abraham’s soul was alive in heaven. He meant that Abraham’s spirit was alive. But this, in turn, did not negate the need for resurrection.
As I explained more fully in Book 7 of Dr. Luke: Healing the Breaches, chapter 14, p. 82,
Hence, just because Abraham, though dead in body and soul, continued to live through his spirit and its consciousness does not negate a future bodily resurrection. It is the purpose of God to make us all in the likeness of Christ’s post-resurrection body. This is the glorified (or spiritual) body, a body that is fully subservient to the spiritual mind, rather than to the fleshly soul.
Greek Opposition to Resurrection Teaching
The purpose of resurrection is to fulfill the original purpose of creation. Matter was created to manifest the glory of God in a new way, using physical things. The glory of God originally rested upon Adam—that is, his body—and it was removed only after he sinned. The biblical (Hebrew) view of creation sets forth that God created all things good, and that He is not scandalized by coming into contact with physical matter.
The Greek view says that matter was created evil by the devil and that a good God could never taint Himself by taking on human flesh or by touching anything physical. The Greek view sees the goal of history to be a great divorce between heaven and earth; whereas the Hebrew view sees the goal of history to be a great marriage between heaven and earth.
In this marriage, the word becomes flesh, not only in the Person of Jesus, but in all of us as well. The great hope of Christians is scandalous to the Greeks. For this reason, Paul endured much ridicule from the Greeks when he spoke about the resurrection of the dead. Acts 17:18 says,
18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him [Paul]. And some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
Again, in Acts 17:32 we read their reaction:
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.
Whenever Paul evangelized the Greeks, he ran into this wall of opposition regarding the resurrection of the dead, which ran contrary to the very basic assumption of Greek religious culture and philosophy. Paul ran into the same opposition among the Sadducees, who had been heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. The Pharisees had no problem with the general concept of a bodily resurrection, but opposed only the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead.
The Timing of Resurrection
As we have already seen from Jesus’ statements in John 6:39, 40, 44, and 54, the resurrection was to take place “on the last day.” Verse 40 uses the term aionian life, which is about enjoying immortality in (during) the Messianic Age. In other words, those believers who ate His flesh and drank His blood (spiritually, of course) will inherit the first resurrection so that they might enjoy immortality during the thousand-year reign of Christ.
Meanwhile, here and now, we are to live according to the resurrection life that is within us as believers in Christ. We were baptized into Christ’s death in order that we might also enter into His resurrection life. Romans 6:3, 4, 5 says,
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.
This is the present reward of faith, available to all. We do not have to wait for a future time to begin living the life of Christ. Christ’s resurrection has a practical application to us today. The problem comes only when we believe that this baptism into resurrection life is the only resurrection that we will experience. When we use the valid teaching of Paul about the present reality of life in Christ to negate a future bodily resurrection, we become too narrow in our view and do not see the big picture.
The present application of Christ’s resurrection to our Christian walk does not give us a bodily resurrection. The body and the soul remain mortal, and this mortality conflicts with the New Creation Man that has been begotten by God (Romans 7:21-23). We walk by the leading of the Holy Spirit who operates in us through our own human spirit, but the soul (carnal mind) is yet rebellious and must be brought into subjection to the spirit.
The resurrection at the last day is the point where such discipline will no longer be necessary, because the divine order that was lost in Adam will be re-established. The body and soul will then glorify God along with the spirit. Then and only then will the purpose of creation be accomplished.
The Feast of Tabernacles
The three main feast days are prophetic of the path that we all must take to achieve the ultimate purpose of God for creation. Passover speaks of justification, or the salvation of our spirit. Pentecost speaks of sanctification in our soul. Tabernacles is the glorification of our body.
The transfiguration of Moses (Exodus 34:29) and of Jesus (Matthew 17:2) show us the purpose of Tabernacles insofar as the body is concerned. The same glory that was seen in them is what will be seen in all of us as well. While such glorified bodies were an absurdity to the Greeks, they are the hope of all who believe in Christ and who understand the purpose of resurrection.
This is part 100 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones