GOD'S CREATION 6: RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 117-128.
The Scriptures have shown us that we are spirits whom God divorced and exiled from our original homes in Heaven. The heavenly spirits were frequently called gods in the days of the prophets. Thus, it is said of man, "Ye are gods" (Psa 82:6), this statement being affirmed later by Christ (see John 10:34). The Hebrew word elohim is translated here as "gods." It is the same word used in the Scriptures when it is written that we are created in the image, or likeness, of the gods (see Gen 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6). We therefore look like these heavenly spirits, as indeed we should, since we are from among them, having been made temporarily "a little lower than the angels [elohim, gods]" (Psa 8:5) (em add).
Consequently, we are incarnated spirits. The figure of speech that "we have a spirit" conveys a false impression. Instead, we are spirits, as indicated by "there is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8). What we have, as well, are physical bodies. It is this spirit/soul which gives physical life to the fleshly body it inhabits, for "the body without the spirit is [physically] dead" (Jas 2:26) (em add).
The body of a spirit is called by various names. Some of the names are "spiritual body," "celestial body," "ghost," "angel," "apparition," and "phantom." Paul contrasts the physical body with the spiritual body in "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body" (I Cor 15:42 NAS). This points out that the physical body is perishable. It decays and decomposes into the dust from which it came. The spiritual body, the body composed of spirit substance, is the imperishable body which goes heavenward. "For a spirit hath not [physical] flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39) (em add). These words of Christ were spoken to the Apostles when He appeared among them after He had risen from the kingdom of the dead. Paul further explains that "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (I Cor 15:44 NAS). The separation of the spirit body from the flesh body is what we call physical death. Again, "the body without the spirit is [physically] dead."
A commonplace analogy serves to clarify this idea. If we look at a gloved hand, we see only the glove. Since the glove can move, wiggle its fingers, and flex its palm, we might conclude that the glove is a living thing. However, it is really the hand inside the glove which gives the glove its motive power and directs its actions. The hand is the real living thing, not the glove. If the hand is withdrawn, the glove can no longer move about. It is emptied of its source of power and motion. This separation of the hand from the glove corresponds to physical death. But the hand still exists--free at last. Comparing the glove with our physical body and the hand with our spirit, we easily understand that physical death is simply the withdrawal of the spirit.
As a further illustration, consider the Scriptural account of the daughter of Jairus. When she died, her spirit simply left her body. When Christ called her back to life "her spirit came again, and she arose straightway" (Luke 8:55).
The departure of the spirit from the physical body at decease is indicated several places in the Scriptures. When nearing His physical death, Christ quoted Psalms 31:5 when He uttered, "into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Soon thereafter His Spirit left His body and He "gave up the ghost [His Spirit]" (Luke 23:46; John 19:30) (em add). When Ananias and his wife abruptly died, they were said to have given up their ghosts (spirits) (see Acts 5:5-10). When Stephen was near death from stoning he cried, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59). King Herod was smitten by an angel of the Lord and "he . . . gave up the ghost" (Acts 12:23).
We emphasize that the physical body does not ascend into Heaven. It is left behind to "return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God" (Eccl 12:7). It is the spirit, in its spirit body, which ascends to Heaven, whose inhabitants are likewise, spirits, just as the Father, the Son, and the angels are also spirits (see John 4:24, Heb 1:14).
When the beggar Lazarus died, "and was carried [in his spirit body] by the angels [other spirits in spirit bodies] into Abraham's bosom" (Luke16:22) (em add), his physical body remained on Earth. When Abraham was rejoicing to see Christ's day (John 8:56), his physical body had long since been buried in a cave in Machpelah (see Gen 25:9-10). Isaac and Jacob, along with Abraham, have been raised from the dead (Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37) and are alive in the kingdom of God (see Luke 13:28), although their physical bodies lie buried with Abraham's in Machpelah (see Gen 49:29-42, 50:13). Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ on the mountain (see Matt 17:3 NAS). in their spiritual bodies, for the physical body of Moses, at least, had been in the ground for centuries "in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor" (Deut 34:6). The thief on the cross went, in spirit, with Christ's Spirit to Paradise, but his earthly body did not vanish from the cross--nor did the body of Christ. The body of Jesus was placed in a tomb, even though His Spirit had already ascended to Paradise.
Paul said that to be present with the Lord in Heaven, he would have to "be absent from the [physical] body" (II Cor 5:8) (em add). Paul was in the flesh but desired to be only in his spirit body when he wrote, "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil 1:23-24).
The physical body housing a spirit has sometimes been compared to a tabernacle. Peter writes of his impending death when he must shortly "put off this my tabernacle" (II Pet 1:14). Paul writes that "we that are in this tabernacle do groan" (II Cor 5:4), but that "we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Cor 5:1). There is no doubt that both Paul and Peter are now with the Lord in their spiritual bodies, even though thousands of people visit the reputed graves of their physical bodies every year.
Examples such as these could be repeated many times over, showing that the physical body returns to Earth while the spiritual body ascends to Heaven. We need merely attend a funeral, look at a cemetery, or consider the results of a crematorium to know that "[physical] flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor 15:50) (em add).
The common meanings of the words "life" and "death" are, as earlier noted, not the usual meanings in the Bibles. On the contrary, life and death in the Bibles usually refer to "spiritual life" and "spiritual death." This is especially true in the writings of the Apostle Paul. A person is said to be "alive," "spiritually alive," "living," or "quickened" if he has chosen allegiance to Christ over Satan. Beginning at that moment of decision, a person is numbered among Christ's subjects. From the point of view of God's spirit world, he had been "spiritually dead" ever since the Fall (see Rom 5:12; Rev 12:9). At the very moment he chooses to ally with Christ, he becomes "alive" again.
If a person elects not to choose Christ over Satan, then he remains numbered among the (spiritually) dead. A person may not have made a conscious choice between Christ and Satan. Nevertheless, he has chosen sides according to his behavior, for "you are the servants of him whom you obey" (Rom 6:16 GNT). Therefore, a spirit is living or dead according to its allegiance, whether or not it is in the physical body.
To further illustrate physical death, let us draw upon our common medical experiences. Suppose that a man receives an injection of anesthetic in his shoulder, so that all feeling is lost in one arm. The arm hangs limply. It does not respond to the man's will. The arm still belongs to him, but, though his blood still flows through its veins, it will not respond to him. We say the arm is numb or "dead." This arm has been "deadened" by an anaesthetic and no longer obeys the will of its master. Spiritual death is similar to this. The anaesthetic, in this instance, is disobedience to God's law of love. The spiritually dead do not obey the will of God, their Master. Their voluntary disobedience and rebellion is the "sin unto [spiritual] death" (Rom 6:16) (em add), because it results in separation from God (spiritual death). Those spirits who behave in this way are referred to as "the dead."
Spiritual death, therefore, means "estranged from God," "divorced from God," or "separated from God," in much the same way we use those terms when talking about a wonderful marriage torn apart when one of the partners deserts the other. The one who was deserted may issue a divorce, as God did to the Israelites (see Jer 3:8). While spiritual death is often defined as separation from God, physical death is separation of the spirit body from the physical body. The complete breaking of the connecting bond between the spirit body and the physical body is the physical death process alluded to in Ecclesiastes as breaking "the silver cord" (Eccl 12:6).
There are situations, however, in which the spirit does not completely disengage from the physical body upon leaving it. The body and the spirit can remain tenuously connected. The weakened connection supplies a greatly diminished power flow from the spirit into the body, and results in a trance, a deep sleep, or a coma. This rare condition was referred to in the Greek as a state of ecstasy, literally being ek-stasis in the Greek, meaning "out of and besides one's self." The meaning of the word has obviously changed over the intervening centuries.
Another means by which the Scriptures refer to being outside the body is by the phrase "in the spirit." This phrase emphasizes the contrast with being "in the flesh." In modern times we call this phenomenon an "out-of-body experience." Verifiable instances of this phenomenon are so rare that it is understandable that our language has lost the original meanings of "ecstasy" and "in the spirit." In the language of today these terms merely refer to moods or emotions. It was not so in the New Testament days. Unfortunately, people of today read "to be with you in spirit" to mean "I'll be thinking about you," which is an entirely different statement.
When John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10), not merely thinking about the Lord. When John was carried in the spirit (Rev 17:3) into the wilderness, he left his physical body behind.
It is apparent that, aside from receiving visions or revelations while out-of-body, a human spirit may at times journey to another location. One of the clearest Biblical examples of the body being in one place, while the spirit journeys elsewhere, is given by Paul when he reports that he was sometimes with the Corinthians without their knowing it: "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor 5:3-4). The meaning of Paul's statement is even clearer in other translations: "Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit, And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit (I Cor 5:3-4 NIV)," and, "I, who am present with you in spirit if not in body, have passed judgment upon this man who has offended so outrageously, exactly as if I were there in person" (I Cor 5:3-4 GNT). To the Colossians Paul writes, "For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline" (Col 2:5 NAS), or, "For although I am absent from you in body, my spirit is with you" (Col 2:5 GNT).
Hence, Paul, prior to writing letters to the congregations at Colossae and Corinth, had visited them in spirit while his body was elsewhere. Paul had another well known out-of-body experience in which he was taken to a higher dimension, when he was "caught up to the third heaven," at which time he could not tell "whether in the body, or out of the body" (II Cor 12:2-4). The reason for his uncertainty is that the spirit body in heaven is like the physical body in all respects, as we have already discussed. The body and the environment are every bit as real and solid in that realm as they are to us in this dimension.
A spirit, out-of-body, may be so nearly detached from that body that it no longer sustains respiration or brain activity. The body is then physically dead for all intents, though the spirit can return. If the spirit does return, the body revives. This phenomenon is called a near death experience in current literature. We see that this experience is essentially the same as an out-of-body experience. Numerous examples of this occurrence have been published in several recent books.
Frequently, a person who has died for a few minutes, and then revived, has a consoling and exhilarating experience. He typically tells of having been met by deceased loved ones, or even by angels, and of having experienced overwhelming peace and joy while in a place of great beauty. As we have seen, this experience is in agreement with what we expect from the Scriptures. As regards this resurrection, it is conspicuous that the person finds himself still aware and "alive," and still in a body, and that the departed loved ones who greet him are in the same state. They are not sleeping in the earth awaiting the resurrection of their pitiful flesh on some further day. That particular body has been vacated and is of no further use whatever.
Funeral services are preached daily in which we hear phrases such as "she has gone to be with Jesus." A few moments later the bereaved family hears a Scripture reading purported to predict a future resurrection of the flesh. These claims cannot both be true, seeing that they contradict each other. Such a blatant lapse in logic can do little to bring hope to the bereaved. Her resurrection, or her raising to a higher dimension, took place "in the twinkling of an eye" (I Cor 15:52) at the moment she departed from the physical body.
It is obvious, then, that Jesus was never at any time in the tomb where Joseph and Nicodemus had placed His physical remains. Jesus, the Spirit, ascended to Paradise immediately upon His release from the physical body (see Luke 23:43), and from there He descended as a Spirit to the lower dimensions of Hell where He ministered to the penitent spirits (I Pet 3:18-20) and conquered the belligerent ones (see Col 2:15 GNT). Christ never walked out of the tomb, as is commonly believed, for the simple reason that He was never in it. The tomb was empty when the women arrived, and Christ materialized while they were present. This materialization from a higher dimension was not different from that of Gabriel or of the high spirits who visited with Abraham and Lot. His body had simply been dematerialized by God's spirit agents in the same way that the bodies of Enoch and Elijah had been dematerialized. His body was not intended to undergo decay (see Psa 16:10), and, in common with the body of Moses, it was not intended that His corpse should survive to become an object of veneration. Further, His appearances during the next forty days were materializations. We note His appearance to the disciples in the closed room and His dematerialization, where there were no available doors for His departure (see John 20:19-26).
The Apostles and the people had witnessed the bringing back to life of several people at Christ's command. In view of their experiences, it is remarkable that the Apostles did not understand what Jesus meant by being "raised from the dead." They puzzled and wondered among themselves as to what He meant by it. "And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from dead should mean" (Mark 9:10), but they were afraid to ask Him what He meant by it (see Mark 9:31-32). The Jews were equally confounded by Jesus' words about death (see John 8:51-53). Quite obviously, Christ was not referring to the renewing of physical life, a phenomenon totally familiar both to His Apostles and to the Jews.
A clue to His meaning lies in the wording of the New Testament. Although there is no record of what He said in the Aramaic language, the remembrances handed down to us in the Greek New Testament show that He often referred to being "raised up out of," or "out from among," the dead. That is, He, the Spirit Jesus, was raised up from among the apostate spirits in the lower dimensions. The dead included those apostate spirits dwelling in human bodies (see John 5:25; I Tim 5:6), and spirits then trapped in the lower dimensions. It is interesting to note that, when Christ descended and preached to certain other spirits, their physical remains were still on Earth (see I Pet 3:19-20). The physical body neither descends nor ascends, only the spiritual body. It is from among these dead that Christ was resurrected, being "raised up" to a higher dimension of existence, in His spiritual body. The same resurrection is promised to all who follow Him. The resurrection of the dead is, therefore, the return of the spiritually dead, who had been exiled in Hell, to the higher dimensions.
Christ was the first to descend to the spiritually dead in Hell and to ascend from there. As such, He is called the "firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18). His was the first such ascension from the dead, to which Paul refers: "Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?" (Eph 4:9 NAS). This fact is also indicated by the words, "having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col 2:12 NAS). By having given Christ their allegiance, the Colossians were already viewed as having been raised from the dead, although their departure from Earth had not yet taken place.
The "resurrection of the dead," or "from the dead," or "out from among the dead," has, therefore, not the slightest reference to the reanimating of a physical body, nor to the transporting of a fleshly body into Heaven. "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Cor 15:50 NAS).
The catechisms in the early centuries of this era did not speak of the resurrection of the flesh, but of the resurrection of the dead. The doctrine that the physical bodies of the deceased would some day be reassembled and transported heavenward is of later invention.
The Biblical case for the resurrection of the spirit body, and only the spirit body, is strong indeed. On the other hand, there are certain Scripture verses which superficially state the physical body shall be raised. We have here simply another instance in which tampering hands have contaminated the Scriptures so that they contradict themselves. An example of this tampering is in Matthew, where it is recorded that at the moment Jesus gave up His Spirit, an earthquake occurred which cast bodies out of their tombs hewn in the rocky hillside. The original report is said to have been: "The veil in the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of those who had fallen asleep were cast forth. Many, who had come from the holy city, did see the bodies lying there" (Greber, p. 348). Many years later, when the resurrection of the flesh had become an axiom of the Christian faith, the verse had evolved to read, "The bodies of those who had fallen asleep were raised." Then the phrase was added, "and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many" (Matt 27:53 NAS), so that Christ might still be thought of as the first to be raised from the dead, although simple logic shows that it fails at that purpose. Are we to believe that the bodies were reanimated at the moment of Christ's crucifixion and that their tombs were opened (see Matt 27:52), and at the same time believe that these revitalized corpses sat quietly, and unnoticed, in their open tombs for three more days before emerging? Had they been revived as claimed, that event could scarcely have escaped the notice of the Gospel writers, and of Paul, and even of the Romans and the Jews, so great a miracle would it have been. It is conspicuous that neither Mark, Luke, John, Peter, nor Paul ever mentions this alleged mass revival anywhere in the New Testament. In point of fact, neither did the writer of Matthew.
An example of a mistranslation made with an implicit belief in the resurrection of the flesh is found in Job. The passage in question reads, "'I know that my Redeemer lives and at last he will stand upon the earth. Then shall I see God, though my skin is destroyed and MY BODY WITHOUT FLESH' . . . (Job 19:25-26)" (Greber, p. 386). These words are distorted into the opposite meaning by the King James translation: "and though after my skin worms destroy this body, YET IN MY FLESH SHALL I SEE GOD" (Job 19:25-26) (em add).
There are still other passages where the Bible translations clearly state that the flesh shall be raised, despite the statements that same Book makes to the contrary. In this event, we might bear in mind that observation can be superior to theological deduction. When the Bibles refer to the four corners of the Earth, but we observe that the Earth has no corners, we conclude that the expression is not literally true. When the Bibles refer to the sun as moving about us, yet we observe that the Earth rotates instead, we conclude that the statement is figurative, or symbolic, or a product of human belief, but not literally accurate. If any New Testament writings can be construed to indicate physical resurrection, the reader may be wary that the early church revisers were strongly pro-resurrection, and that documents were adjusted and altered in places to match church doctrine. Also, translations are, to an extent, interpretations. Since resurrection of the flesh is inconsistent with many of the Biblical passages regarding the afterlife, and in disagreement with observation, we have no honest choice but to follow Paul's example and discard it as inaccurate.
Paul was apparently as difficult to understand in his day as he is in ours. Peter remarks that there are things in Paul's letters which are "hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of his writings" (II Pet 3:15-16 NAS, using footnote from NEB) (The phrase "in his writings" is almost universally translated as "in the Scriptures," the implied motive of the translators being to classify Paul's letters as Scripture). As regards the resurrection of the spirit body, Paul had attempted to convey the truth to his converts, but they were as slow to grasp it as the Apostles themselves had been. The Corinthians had debated among themselves as to whether the flesh rose again, and seem to have believed that it did. Despite Christ's warning against calling anyone a fool (see Matt 5:22), Paul's frustration is evident as he tries to correct the Corinthians with the words, "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?' You fool!" (I Cor 15:35-36 NAS). Paul devotes the next several lines to drawing the distinction between the physical body and the body we will have as a spirit. Then he emphasizes: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body" (I Cor 15:42 NAS), and "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (I Cor 15:44 NAS). He concludes his comparison of the flesh and spirit bodies with the statement that, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Cor 15:50 NAS). Paul effectively rebuts the idea of resurrection of the flesh. He does not reveal how he coped with Old Testament statements to the contrary.
In summary, Paul's refutation of the belief in fleshly resurrection is clearly and forcefully presented in some modern translations, such as, "But, some one will ask, how do the dead rise? What kind of body do they have? Foolish man! Just consider the earthly seed that you sow in the ground. Must it not first perish in the earth before new life sprouts from it? . . . There are celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies . . . SO IS IT WITH THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD. That which is sown perishes; that which grows out of it does not perish . . . THAT WHICH SPRINGS INTO LIFE IS A SPIRITUAL BODY . . . Let me impress upon you this one thing, brothers: earthly flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . . None of us will remain in the kingdom of the spiritually dead for ever, but WE SHALL ALL UNDERGO THE TRANSFORMATION INTO THE SPIRITUAL BODY. (from I Cor 15:35-52 GNT) (em add).
What could be clearer?