|Topical Bible Study||July 1954|
“THE LAST ENEMY THAT SHALL BE DESTROYED IS DEATH”
The Resurrection of the Dead
“The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” —Isaiah 35:10
CHRISTIANITY is the only religion in the world which holds out a hope that those who have died will be raised to life again, or that there will be a resurrection of the dead. The heathen religions do not acknowledge that anyone is dead. There is no death, they insist; so naturally from their standpoint there could be no resurrection of the dead. But the Apostle Paul does not agree with this viewpoint. He wrote, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”—I Cor. 15:17-19
God’s plan to restore the dead to life is emphasized throughout the Old Testament as well as the New. In his defense before Felix, Paul referred to his “hope toward God,” which the Jewish religious leaders of his day “also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”—Acts. 24:15
The Apostle Peter referred to this hope of a resurrection, using the word “restitution,” saying there would be “times of restitution of all things,” and then added, “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21) As one of his proof texts, Peter cites the promise God made to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth. (vs. 25) Then, in the beginning of the next chapter, we are told that the “captain [ruler, marginal translation] of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”— chap. 4:1,2
This was exactly what Peter meant by ‘times of restitution of all things.’ So from his testimony we know that the doctrine of the resurrection is clearly set forth by the prophets of the Old Testament. True, the word resurrection is not used in the Old Testament, but the hope of a restoration to life which it describes is set forth in many and various ways. Jesus told the Sadducees that the fact of a resurrection is set forth in the Lord’s word to Moses at the burning bush, saying that he was “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but the living: for all live unto him.”—Luke 20:37,38
This text is often mistakenly used to prove that the dead are not actually dead. But this is not the argument that Jesus presents. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead, but because God intended to raise them from the dead they were not forever out of existence. All live unto God, Jesus said, and the reason is that God has promised to raise all from the dead. Because of this, he looks upon them as being merely asleep, from which there will be an awakening.
One of the ways by which the idea of resurrection is set forth in the Old Testament is by the use of the word returning. Thus for example, in our text, the promise is that ‘the ransomed of the Lord shall return.’ In the New Testament the Apostle Paul informs us that it is God’s will that all men shall be “saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The great Truth referred to is that Jesus gave himself a “ransom for all.” It is this that is to be made known to all “in due time.”—I Tim. 2:3-6
Since Jesus gave himself a ‘ransom for all,’ it means that the ransomed of the Lord who are to return are all mankind, all who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. Their returning is described by Paul in the text just quoted as being ‘saved’ in order that they may have the truth of the ransom “testified” to them. They cannot acquire a knowledge of the Truth while in the sleep of death.
Children to Return
Jeremiah assures us that children are to return from death, described in this passage as a returning from “the land of the enemy.” We quote, “Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border.”—Jer. 31:15-17
It is interesting to note in this passage how Jeremiah emphasizes the fact that it is the Lord who is promising that children ‘shall come again from the land of the enemy.’ No human being could make such a promise and be able to fulfill it. Only by Divine power can the dead be restored to life, and in this wonderful promise God assures us of his intention to use his power for this purpose. In the New Testament this promise is referred to and applied to the children who were killed by King Herod in his attempt to destroy the newborn king, Christ Jesus; but we may well apply it to all children who have been struck down by the grim reaper, Death.
All to “Return”
In Psalm 90, verse 3, the prayer of Moses also expresses the hope of resurrection. Addressing the Lord he says, “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” It was in the Garden of Eden, and because of original sin, that the Lord turned man to destruction. To Adam he said, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen. 3:19) Because Adam’s children were born after he sinned, they were imperfect and partook of the death penalty. Paul wrote, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”—Rom. 5:12
Paul expresses a similar thought in I Corinthians 15,verse 22, which reads, “As in Adam all die.” In this text the apostle adds, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Thus he explains the manner in which the Lord will say, ‘Return, ye children of men.’ Moses simply states that the Lord turned man to destruction, and will later restore him to life, while Paul explains that death came through Adam, and that life will come through Christ.
Job’s Hope of Resurrection
The Prophet Job is one of the outstanding characters of the Old Testament. He was permitted to pass through much suffering, mentally and physically. It reached the point where he could endure no more, so he asked the Lord to let him die. “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, … until thy wrath be past,” he prayed. Having asked God to let him die, he then asked, “If a man die, shall he live again?”—Job 14:13,14
Job was simply inquiring as to what his status would be in the event the Lord answered his prayer and allowed him to die. Speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Job replied to his own question, saying, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. [Then] thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” (vss. 14,15) The hope expressed by Job that the Lord would ‘call’ him forth from death is in keeping with the assurance given us by Jesus that “all” in death will hear his “voice” and “shall come forth.”—John 5:28,29
Earlier in his experience Job expressed the opinion that it would have been better for him had he died in infancy. He explains that in this event he would have “lain still and been quiet.” “I should have slept,” he continued, and “been at rest.” He also indicates that all classes of the human race—kings, counselors, great, small, the wicked and the weary—all rest together in death. “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.”—Job 3:11-19
Here Job refers to the dead as being ‘prisoners’—held captive in death. In a reference to the “kings of the earth upon the earth” who lose their lives in the great Armageddon struggle at this end of the age, the Prophet Isaiah said, “They shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison [of death], and after many days shall they be visited.” (Isa. 24:21,22) The ‘visiting’ of these suggests their awakening from the sleep of death.
Released from Captivity
In keeping with the thought that the dead are as prisoners are many Old Testament references to themas being captives, or in captivity. This seems particularly true of the wicked dead. But we are assured that these captives shall be released. Probably such promises prompted Paul to affirm that there would be a resurrection of the dead, including the “unjust.” (Acts 24:15) “I [will] bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days,” the Lord assures us through the Prophet Jeremiah. (Jer. 48:47) The Moabites were a wicked people, yet they will be released from their captivity in death.
The Lord said that this would occur in the ‘latter days.’ When Jesus said to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again,” she replied, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:23,24) From this we learn that the ‘last day,’ or latter days, is the time of the general resurrection. This reaffirms the fact that bringing ‘again the captivity of Moab in the latter days’ will, in reality, be their resurrection from death.
The ancient Ammonites were also a wicked people, yet the Lord’s promise is, “I will bring again the captivity of the children of Ammon.”—Jer. 49:6
The wicked Elamites are also promised an awakening from death. God’s promise concerning them is, “It shall come to pass in the latter days, that I will bring again the captivity of Elam.”—Jer. 49:39
In Ezekiel 16, verse 53, we are assured that the Sodomites, the Samaritans, and the Israelites are to be resurrected. God’s promise is, “When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them.”
Order of the Resurrection
The hope of the resurrection is clearly set forth in both the Old and New Testaments, but it is only in the New Testament that we are furnished with some of the details concerning its order and the nature of the released prisoners of death. We are indebted to Paul for much of this information, as he outlines it in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. After declaring that as ‘in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,’ he explains, “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.”—vss. 22,23
In verse twenty of this chapter, Paul speaks of Christ as being the “firstfruits of them that slept.” However, his footstep followers are counted in with him as part of the ‘firstfruits.’ In James 1:18 and Revelation 14:4 the true church is referred to as “a kind of firstfruits [unto God] of his creatures.” When Paul, in describing the order of the resurrection, says, ‘Christ the firstfruits,’ the body members of Christ are included.
From two standpoints these, together with Jesus, are the firstfruits of the resurrection. In Revelation they are described as participating in the “first resurrection” (chap. 20:5), and from this standpoint are properly called the firstfruits. But there is another and perhaps more significant thought attached to the term firstfruits than merely being first. The word stems from the Lord’s arrangement with the people of typical Israel to present the firstfruits of their harvests to him as an offering, or sacrifice.
Exodus 34, verse 26, speaks of the “first of the firstfruits.” This might well point forward to the offering of Jesus, who thus would be the ‘first of the firstfruits’ to be raised from the dead, having given his life for the sins of the world. Jesus’ followers also offer themselves in sacrifice. They follow in his footsteps, and are “planted together in the likeness of his death,” and will therefore be “in the likeness of his resurrection” as the remaining members of the firstfruits class.—Rom. 6:5
In Revelation, where these are shown to be raised in the ‘first resurrection,’ they are also pictured as a sacrificing class—“beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.” (chap. 20:4) Not many of these have been literally ‘beheaded.’ All who participate in the first resurrection to live and reign with Christ, are symbolically beheaded. The thought is of renouncing one’s own will and way, and accepting the headship of Christ, thus becoming a part of his mystical body.—I Cor. 12:12-14
Thus the term Christ in the larger sense embraces both Jesus and his church, and Paul explains that in the resurrection Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead; then his body members, the remainder of the firstfruits class. But this is only the beginning of the resurrection! Paul explains that ‘afterward’ there will be those who become Christ’s during his presence—his presence, that is in the kingdom, which is to last for a thousand years.
It is this afterward resurrection that so many have failed to see in the Word of God, and the King James translation somewhat obscures the thought. It reads, ‘Afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.’ It is the Greek word parousia which is here translated ‘coming.’ This word means ‘presence,’ and the reference is to the entire thousand years of Christ’s presence as the reigning king of earth. This is shown by the next three verses, which read, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”—I Cor. 15:24-26
Those who are, or become, Christ’s during his presence will be those of the world of mankind who, during his reign, will be awakened from the sleep of death and accept the opportunity then given of believing on him and obeying the laws of his kingdom. This also is shown in the twentieth chapter of Revelation, where we are informed that during the thousand years of Christ’s reign, when his church, brought forth in the first resurrection will be reigning with him, “the dead, small and great” will stand before God, being enlightened concerning the Divine will and purpose for them by the “books” which then will be opened. It will be then that “death and hell” will deliver up the dead that are in them.—vss. 11-13
What Kind of Bodies
The question naturally arises as to what people will be like in the resurrection. This has been an age-old question, and Paul brings it into his treatise on the subject—“Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” Paul’s answer to this question reads, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened [made alive], except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.”—I Cor. 15:35-38
Even in Paul’s day the erroneous theory that there is no death was prevalent, to the extent that he thought it necessary to emphasize that there could be no resurrection of the dead if no one is dead—‘That which thou sowest [in death], is not quickened, except it die.’ Then he explains that the body which is sown in death will not be quickened in the resurrection. That which is resurrected he describes as ‘bare grain.’ He explains that each bare grain will be given a body in the resurrection as it pleases the Lord—‘to every seed his own [appropriate] body.’
In verse forty Paul explains that “there are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial”—or spiritual and earthly bodies. Thus, when he says that each bare grain will be given its own appropriate body, he simply means that in the resurrection some will have spiritual bodies and some will have earthly bodies, the determining factor being what sort of bare grain is sown in death.
What, then, is the bare grain that is sown? Obviously Paul’s reference is to the mind, the personality, which now finds expression through the body organism, particularly the brain. When the body dies this mind, or personality, is left unclothed, bare. It ceases to exist except as the Lord is able to, and will, restore it in the resurrection by giving it an appropriate body through which to find expression.
As Paul explains later in this wonderful chapter on the resurrection that Adam the father of the human race, was of the “earth, earthy.” (vs. 47) The earth was his home, and it was natural that his mind and his affections should be centered in the good earthly blessings with which he was surrounded. His entire progeny has likewise been of the ‘earth, earthy.’ The natural desires of all mankind are for the good things of this earth. Their affections are centered upon them, and they would be out of place in any other environment.
With the followers of Jesus, however, a change takes place. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are begotten to a new and spiritual hope. Jesus promised his disciples that he would prepare a “place” for them, and that they would be with him in that place. (John 14:2) While our finite minds cannot understand the details of a spiritual existence, the Scriptures encourage us to set our “affection on things above,” “where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”—Col. 3:1,2
The Apostle John wrote, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) Paul wrote, “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” (Heb. 3:1) He also wrote of his own determination to attain this great prize of the heavenly calling, saying, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Those who have laid hold upon this heavenly hope are described by Paul as New Creatures.—II Cor. 5:17
So it is that from the time we accept Jesus and devote ourselves to following in his steps of sacrifice, a transformation of mind begins. Paul expresses it, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2) Although still in the flesh, and surrounded by earthly things, we have been given a hope of a heavenly reward in the resurrection; so we continue to set our affections on things above. This new mind continues to develop, becoming more and more the dominant influence in our lives.
This new, spiritual mind is pre-acclimated to heavenly things under the lifelong influences of the exceeding great and precious promises of God, and is the bare grain that is sown in death. While here below, this new mind can but imperfectly express itself, being fettered by natural desires of the flesh, and a corrupt, sin-cursed and dying flesh. But being sown in this corrupt body, it, the bare grain, the new spiritual mind, is raised in a glorious spiritual body suitable to its every need. Thus will be the resurrection of the firstfruits class. Paul explains:
“So also is THE resurrection of THE dead. 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: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”—I Cor. 15:42-44
This is the resurrection hope of the firstfruits class. It is a glorious, heavenly hope. But, as Paul emphasizes, in the resurrection ‘there is a natural body’ as well as ‘a spiritual body.’ Only those, however, who undergo a transformation of mind and character through the influence of the heavenly promises of the Bible, will participate in the spiritual resurrection. Only these would be at home amidst spiritual surroundings.
Every seed, or bare grain, will be given its own appropriate body; so those who have not been setting their affections on things above, but on the things of earth, will be restored to life as human beings, just as they were before. These will be awakened from death during the millennium, and if they obey the laws of Christ’s kingdom, will be restored to full perfection of human nature as Adam enjoyed it before he transgressed the Divine command.
In verse fifty-four Paul again sets forth the Divine order of the resurrection. Having told us in verse twenty-three of the firstfruits of the resurrection, and then of the afterward awakening of those who will become Christ’s during his presence, he now confirms this, saying, “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.”—I Cor. 15:54
The terms ‘when,’ ‘shall have,’ and ‘then’ are most significant in this text—‘When this mortal shall have put on immortality.’ This indicates the first resurrection to be complete, the firstfruits class all raised from death and united with their Lord and Head in the heavenly realm. ‘Then,’ that is, afterward, after ‘this mortal shall have put on immortality,’ ‘shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.’
This saying is contained in one of the outstanding Old Testament promises of the kingdom, and the blessings it will make available for all mankind. It is one of the restitution promises which God caused his prophets to record. The promise describes the kingdom of Christ as a “mountain” in which the Lord of hosts will make unto all people a “feast of fat things.” It is in this kingdom, the prophet affirms, that the Lord will “swallow up death in victory,” and will “wipe away tears from off all faces.”—Isa. 25:6-9
It is a glorious promise of restitution for the sincursed and dying race. For death to be swallowed up in victory means that those who are dead must be restored to life. So, during the thousand years of the kingdom the dead will continue to come forth from death, until even Adam himself will be awakened, as well as the remainder of the unjust—the Sodomites, the Moabites, the Elamites, and the Ammonites. Yes, all the ransomed of the Lord shall return.
They will not return to be consigned to the “second death,” unless they then prove themselves incorrigible sinners. (Rev. 20:14) They will not be awakened from death to be sent to eternal torture. As our text declares, they shall ‘return, … with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’