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Part Six: The Doctrine of The Last ThingsGeneral Eschatology
III. The Resurrection of the Dead
The discussion of the second advent of Christ naturally leads on to a consideration of its concomitants. Foremost among these is the resurrection of the dead or, as it is sometimes called, "the resurrection of the flesh."
A. THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION IN HISTORY.
In the days of Jesus there was a difference of opinion among the Jews respecting the resurrection. While the Pharisees believed in it, the Sadducees did not, Matt. 22:23; Acts 23:8. When Paul spoke of it at Athens, he met with mockery, Acts 17:32. Some of the Corinthians denied it, I Cor. 15, and Hymenæus and Phyletus, regarding it as something purely spiritual, asserted that it was already a matter of history, II Tim. 2:18. Celsus, one of the earliest opponents of Christianity, made especially this doctrine the butt of ridicule; and the Gnostics, who regarded matter as inherently evil, naturally rejected it. Origen defended the doctrine over against the Gnostics and Celsus, but yet did not believe that the very body which was deposited in the grave would be raised up. He described the body of the resurrection as a new, refined, and spiritualized body. While some of the early Christian Fathers shared his view, the majority of them stressed the identity of the present body and the body of the resurrection. The Church already in the Apostolic Confession expressed its belief in the resurrection of the flesh (sarkos). Augustine was at first inclined to agree with Origen, but later on adopted the prevalent view, though he did not deem it necessary to believe that the present differences of size and stature would continue in the life to come. Jerome insisted strongly on the identity of the present and the future body. The East, represented by such men as the two Gregories, Chrysostom, and John of Damascus, manifested a tendency to adopt a more spiritual view of the resurrection than the West. Those who believed in a coming millennium spoke of a double resurrection, that of the righteous at the beginning, and that of the wicked at the end of the millennial reign. During the Middle Ages the Scholastics speculated a great deal about the body of the resurrection, but their speculations are mostly fanciful and of little value. Thomas Aquinas especially seemed to have special information about the nature of the resurrection body, and about the order and manner of the resurrection. The theologians of the period of the Reformation were generally agreed that the body of the resurrection would be identical with the present body. All the great Confessions of the Church represent the general resurrection as simultaneous with the second coming of Christ, the final judgment and the end of the world. They do not separate any of these events, such as the resurrection of the righteous and that of the wicked, and the coming of Christ and the end of the world, by a period of a thousand years. The Premillenarians, on the other hand, insist on such a separation. Under the influence of Rationalism and with the advance of the physical sciences some of the difficulties with which the doctrine of the resurrection is burdened were accentuated, and as a result modern religious liberalism denies the resurrection of the flesh, and explains the Scriptural representations of it as a figurative representation of the idea that the full human personality will continue to exist after death.
B. SCRIPTURAL PROOF FOR THE RESURRECTION.
1. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. It is sometimes said that the
Old Testament knowns of no
resurrection of the dead, or knows of it only in its latest books. The
opinion is rather
common that Israel borrowed its belief in the resurrection from the
Mackintosh: "Strong evidence exists for the hypothesis that the
idea of the resurrection
entered the Hebrew mind from Persia."
2. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. As might be expected, the New Testament has more to say on the resurrection of the dead than the Old, because it brings the climax of God's revelation on this point in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Over against the denial of the Sadducees, Jesus argues the resurrection of the dead from the Old Testament, Matt. 22:23-33, and parallels, cf. Ex. 3:6. Moreover, He teaches that great truth very clearly in John 5:25-29; 6:39,40,44,54; 11:24,25; 14:3; 17:24. The classical passage of the New Testament for the doctrine of the resurrection is I Cor. 15. Other important passages are: I Thess. 4:13-16; II Cor. 5:1-10; Rev. 20:4-6 (of dubious interpretation), and 20:13.
C. THE NATURE OF THE RESURRECTION.
1. IT IS A WORK OF THE TRIUNE GOD. The resurrection is a work of the triune God. In some cases we are simply told that God raises the dead, no person being specified, Matt. 22:29; II Cor. 1:9. More particularly, however, the work of the resurrection is ascribed to the Son, John 5:21,25,28,29; 6:38-40, 44,54; I Thess. 4:16. Indirectly, it is also designated as a work of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:11.
2. IT IS A PHYSICAL OR BODILY RESURRECTION. There were some in the days of Paul who regarded the resurrection as spiritual, II Tim. 2:18. And there are many in the present day who believe only in a spiritual resurrection. But the Bible is very explicit in teaching the resurrection of the body. Christ is called the "firstfruits" of the resurrection, I Cor. 15:20,23, and "the firstborn of the dead," Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5. This implies that the resurrection of the people of God will be like that of their heavenly Lord. His resurrection was a bodily resurrection, and theirs will be of the same kind. Moreover, the redemption wrought by Christ is also said to include the body, Rom. 8:23; I Cor. 6:13-20. In Rom. 8:11 we are told explicitly that God through His Spirit will raise up our mortal bodies. And it is clearly the body that is prominently before the mind of the apostle in I Cor. 15, cf. especially the verses 35-49. According to Scripture there will be a resurrection of the body, that is, not an entirely new creation, but a body that will be in a fundamental sense identical with the present body. God will not create a new body for every man, but will raise up the very body that was deposited in the earth. This cannot only be inferred from the term "resurrection," but is clearly stated in Rom. 8:11, I Cor. 15:53, and is further implied in the figure of the seed sown in the earth, which the apostle employs in I Cor. 15:36-38. Moreover, Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection, conclusively proved the identity of His body to His disciples. At the same time Scripture makes it perfectly evident that the body will be greatly changed. Christ's body was not yet fully glorified during the period of transition between the resurrection and the ascension; yet it had already undergone a remarkable change. Paul refers to the change that will take place, when he says that in sowing a seed we do not sow the body that shall be; we do not intend to pick the same seed out of the ground. Yet we do expect to reap something that is in a fundamental sense identical with the seed deposited in the earth. While there is a certain identity between the seed sown and the seeds that develop out of it, yet there is also a remarkable difference. We shall be changed, says the apostle, "for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." The body "is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." Change is not inconsistent with the retention of identity. We are told that even now every particle in our bodies changes every seven years, but through it all the body retains its identity. There will be a certain physical connection between the old body and the new, but the nature of this connection is not revealed. Some theologians speak of a remaining germ from which the new body develops; others say that the organizing principle of the body remains. Origen had something of that kind in mind; so did Kuyper and Milligan. If we bear all this in mind, the old objection against the doctrine of the resurrection, namely, that it is impossible that a body could be raised up, consisting of the same particles that constituted it at death, since these particles pass into other forms of existence and perhaps into hundreds of other bodies, loses its force completely.
3. IT IS A RESURRECTION OF BOTH THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED. According to
Josephus the Pharisees denied the resurrection of the wicked.
4. IT IS A RESURRECTION OF UNEQUAL IMPORT FOR THE JUST AND THE UNJUST. Breckenridge quotes I Cor. 15:22 to prove that the resurrection of both saints and sinners was purchased by Christ. But it can hardly be denied that the second "all" in that passage is general only in the sense of "all who are in Christ." The resurrection is represented there as resulting from a vital union with Christ. But, surely, only believers stand in such a living relation to Him. The resurrection of the wicked cannot be regarded as a blessing merited by the mediatorial work of Christ, though it is connected with this indirectly. It is a necessary result of postponing the execution of the sentence of death on man, which made the work of redemption possible. The postponement resulted in the comparative separation of temporal and eternal death, and in the existence of an intermediate state. Under these circumstances it becomes necessary to raise the wicked from the dead, in order that death in its widest extent and in all its weight might be imposed on them. Their resurrection is not an act of redemption, but of sovereign justice, on the part of God. The resurrection of the just and the unjust have this in common, that in both bodies and souls are reunited. But in the case of the former this results in perfect life, while in the case of the latter it issues in the extreme penalty of death, John 5:28,29.
D. THE TIME OF THE RESURRECTION.
1. THE PREMILLENNIAL VIEW RESPECTING THE TIME OF THE RESURRECTION. It is the common opinion among Premillenarians that the resurrection of the saints will be separated by a thousand years from that of the wicked. They almost seem to regard it as an axiomatic truth that these two classes cannot possibly arise at the same time. And not only that, but the type of Premillennialism which is now dominant, with its theory of a twofold second coming of Christ, feels the need of positing a third resurrection. All the saints of former dispensations and of the present dispensation are raised up at the parousia or the coming of the Lord. Those still alive at that time are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. But in the seven years that follow the parousia many other saints die, especially in the great tribulation. These must also be raised up, and their resurrection will occur at the revelation of the day of the Lord. seven years after the parousia. But even at this point Premillenarians cannot very well stop. Since the resurrection at the end of the world is reserved for the wicked, there must be another resurrection of the saints who die during the millennium, which precedes that of the wicked, for the two cannot be raised up at the same time.
2. SCRIPTURAL INDICATIONS AS TO THE TIME OF THE RESURRECTION. According to Scripture the resurrection of the dead coincides with the parousia, with the revelation or the day of the Lord, and with the end of the world, and will immediately precede the general and final judgment. It certainly does not favor the premillennial distinctions with respect to this doctrine. In several places it represents the resurrection of the righteous and that of the wicked as contemporaneous, Dan. 12:2; John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:13-15. All of these passages speak of the resurrection as a single event and do not contain the slightest indication that the resurrection of the righteous and that of the wicked will be separated by a period of a thousand years. But this is not all that can be said in favor of the idea that the two coincide. In John 5:21-29 Jesus combines the thought of the resurrection, including the resurrection of the righteous, with the thought of the judgment, including the judgment of the wicked. Moreover, II Thess. 1:7-10 clearly represents the parousia (vs. 10), the revelation (vs. 7), and the judgment of the wicked (vs. 8,9) as coinciding. If that is not the case, language would seem to have lost its meaning. Furthermore, the resurrection of believers is directly connected with the second coming of the Lord in I Cor. 15:23; Phil. 3:20,21; and I Thess. 4:16, but it is also represented as occurring at the end of the world, John 6:39,40,44,54 or at the last day. That means that believers are raised up at the last day, and that the last day is also the day of the coming of the Lord. Their resurrection does not precede the end by a period of a thousand years. Happily, there are several Premillenarians who do not accept the theory of a threefold resurrection, but who nevertheless cling to the doctrine of a double resurrection.
3. CONSIDERATION OF THE ARGUMENTS FOR A DOUBLE RESURRECTION.
a. Great emphasis is placed on the fact that Scripture, while speaking
in general of
that is, "of
the dead," repeatedly refers to the resurrection of believers as a resurrection
"out of the dead." Premillenarians render
this expression, "from among the dead," so that it would imply
that many dead still
remain in the grave. Lightfoot also asserts that this expression refers
to the resurrection
of believers, but Kennedy says, "There is absolutely no evidence
for this definite
assertion." This is also the conclusion to which Dr. Vos comes
after a careful study of the
relevant passages. In general it may be said that the assumption that
he anastasis ek nekron
should be rendered "the
resurrection from among the dead," is entirely
gratuitous. The standard lexicons know nothing of such a rendering; and
Cremer-Koegel interprets the expression to mean "from the state of
the dead," and this
would seem to be the most natural interpretation. It should be noted that
Paul uses the
terms interchangeably in I Cor. 15. Though speaking of the resurrection
of believers only, he evidently does not seek to stress the fact that this is of a
specific character, for he
uses the more
general term repeatedly, I Cor. 15:12,13,21,42.
b. Premillenarians also appeal to certain specific expressions, such as "a better resurrection," Heb. 11:35, "the resurrection of life," John 5:29, "the resurrection of the just," Luke 14:14, and "the resurrection of the dead in Christ," I Thess. 4:16, — all of which refer to the resurrection of believers only. These expressions seem to set that resurrection off as something apart. But these passages merely prove that the Bible distinguishes the resurrection of the righteous from that of the wicked and afford no proof whatsoever that there will be two resurrections, separated from each other by a period of a thousand years. The resurrection of the people of God differs from that of unbelievers in its moving principle, in its essential nature, and in its final issue, and can therefore very well be represented as something distinctive and to be desired far above the resurrection of the wicked. The former does, and the latter does not, deliver men from the power of death. In spite of their resurrection unbelievers remain in the state of death.
c. One of the principal proof passages of the
Premillenarians for a double
found in I Cor. 15:22-24: "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall
be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits;
then they that are
Christ's, at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall deliver up
the kingdom to
God, even the Father." In this passage they find three stages of
indicated, namely, (1) the resurrection of Christ; (2) the resurrection
of believers; and (3)
the end (as they interpret it) of the resurrection, that is, the
resurrection of the wicked.
Silver puts it rather picturesquely: "In the resurrection Christ
and many saints who rise
in and around Jerusalem appear as the first band. More than 1900 years
Christ's, at His coming' appear as the second band. 'Then,' but not
'cometh the end'
(verse 24), the last great body like a band of forlorn creatures ending
d. Another passage to which the Premillenarians appeal is
I Thess. 4:16, "For the
Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of
and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise
first." From this they infer
that those who did not die in Christ will be raised up at a later date.
But it is perfectly
clear that this is not the antithesis which the apostle has in mind. The
following is not, "Then the dead who are not in Christ shall
arise," but, "Then we that
are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the
air: and so shall we
ever be with the Lord." This is frankly admitted by Biederwolf.
e. The most important passage to which the
Premillenarians refer is Rev. 20:4-6:...
"and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest
of the dead lived not
until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first
resurrection." Here the
verses 5 and 6 make mention of a first resurrection, and this, it is
said, implies that there
will be a second. But the supposition that the writer is here speaking
of a bodily
resurrection is extremely dubious. The scene in the verses 4-6 is evidently
laid, not on
earth, but in heaven. And the terms employed are not suggestive of a
resurrection. The seer does not speak of persons or bodies that were
raised up, but of souls
which "lived" and "reigned." And he calls their living and
reigning with Christ
resurrection." Dr. Vos suggests that the words, "
(emphatic) is the first
resurrection," may even be "a pointed disavowal of a more
interpretation of the same phrase."
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: Does the Apostolic Confession speak of the resurrection of the body, or of the resurrection of the flesh? How do you account for the change from the one to the other? Do not all Premillenarians have to posit another resurrection of the righteous in addition to those that occur at the parousia and at the revelation? How do Premillenarians construe even Dan. 12:2 into an argument for a double resurrection? How do they find an argument for it in Phil. 3:11? What is the principal argument of modern liberals against the doctrine of a physical resurrection? What does Paul mean, when he speaks of the resurrection body as a soma pneumatikon, I Cor. 15:44?
LITERATURE: Bavinck,; Geref. Dogm. IV, pp. 755-758, 770-777; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Consummatione Saeculi, pp. 262-279; Vos, Geref. Dogm. V. Eschatologie, pp. 14-22; ibid. The Pauline Eschatology, pp. 136-225; Hodge, Syst. Theol. III, pp. 837-844; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol., pp. 829-841; Shedd. Dogm. Theol. pp. 641-658; Valentine, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 414-420; Dahle, Life After Death, pp. 358-368, 398-418; Hovey, Eschatology, pp. 23-78; Mackintosh, Immortality and the Future, pp. 164-179; Snowden, The Coming of the Lord, pp. 172-191; Salmond, The Chr. Doct. of Immortality, pp. 262-272, 437-459; Kennedy, St. Paul's Conceptions of the Last Things, pp. 222-281; Kliefoth, Eschatologie pp. 248-275; Brown, The Chr. Hope, pp. 89-108; Milligan. The Resurrection of the Dead, pp. 61-77.