On Eagles Wings Ministries
Diverging Destinies at Death
In this session we shall begin to examine in detail what the Bible teaches about the resurrection of the dead.
The first point which must be clearly established is that the part of man which is to be resurrected is his body – not his spirit or his soul. More precisely defined, the resurrection of which the Bible speaks is a resurrection of the body.
In order to understand what this entails, it is necessary to analyse briefly the total nature of man as revealed in the Bible.
Man’s Triune Being
Paul offered the following prayer on behalf of the professing Christians in Thessalonica.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Jesus (1 Thess. 5:23).
In the first part of this verse Paul uses the phrase “sanctify you completely.” This indicates that he is concerned with the total nature or personality of each of the professing Christians for whom he prays. In the second part of the verse Paul enumerates the three elements which make up man’s total nature or personality: spirit, soul and body.
Again, we read:
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow (Heb. 4:12).
This verse gives the same threefold division of man’s total personality into spirit, soul and body. In this instance the body is represented by the actual physical parts here mentioned – that is, the joints and marrow.
For further understanding concerning the constitution of man’s total personality, we may turn to the original account of man’s creation, as given at the beginning of the Bible.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).
In this verse two words are used to express the relationship of man, the creature, to God, the Creator. The first of these words is image; the second is likeness.
The original Hebrew word, here translated “image,” is in many other passages of the Old Testament translated by “shade” or “shadow.” In modern Hebrew the same root occurs today in the verbal form which means “to have one’s photo taken.” These other associations of the word indicate that its primary reference here in the creation of man is to man’s external form or appearance. Even in man’s external form there is a correspondence between man and God which is not found in the lower animal creation.
However, the correspondence between man and God goes further than mere external form. The second Hebrew word used here, translated “likeness,” is much more general in its application. It refers to the total personality of man. It indicates that there is a correspondence between this total personality of man and the being or nature of God Himself.
One important aspect of this correspondence between the nature of God and the nature of man is contained in the revelation of the three elements of man’s total personality – spirit, soul and body. Thus we may say that man is revealed as a triune being – one total personality, yet composed of the three constituent elements: spirit, soul and body.
In a corresponding way, the Bible also reveals that the being of God is triune – that is, there is one true God, yet within this one Godhead we discern the three distinct Persons of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
Thus the Bible presents us with a likeness, or a correspondence, between the total personality of man and the total nature of God. Briefly, we may sum up this correspondence of man to God as follows: The Bible reveals a triune man, created in the likeness of a triune God.
In Genesis we are given further details concerning the original creation of man.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [soul] (2:7).
Here we see that the total personality of man has its origin in two absolutely distinct and separate sources. The physical, material part of man – his body – is formed out of the dust of the earth. The invisible, immaterial part of man has its origin in the breath of almighty God. This invisible, immaterial part of man is here called “the soul.” However, as we have already said, in other passages of Scripture it is more fully defined as the combination of spirit and soul together.
The Bible indicates that spirit and soul are not identical but are two distinct elements together making up the immaterial part of man. It is outside the scope of our present study, however, to attempt to draw a precise line of demarcation between man’s spirit and his soul.
For our present purposes it is sufficient to say that the total personality of man has two different original sources: 1) The physical, material part of man (his body) is from below – from the earth. 2) The invisible, immaterial part of man (his spirit and soul) is from above – from God Himself.
At death, the invisible, immaterial element of man (his spirit and soul) is released from its earthly vessel. Thereafter, by the process of burial, man’s material part (his body) is restored again to the earth from which it came and through decomposition returns again to its original elements. Even where there is no actual burial, man’s body, after death, is always subjected to some process of disintegration or decomposition, which ultimately restores it to its original material elements. Consequently, it will be man’s body also which, by resurrection, will be raised up again from the same material elements.
Man’s Spirit Separated From His Body
There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that, after death, man’s immaterial part – his spirit and soul – will be subjected to the same processes of burial and decomposition that await his body. On the contrary, there is evidence in many passages of Scripture that the destiny of man’s spiritual part, after death, is quite different from that of his body.
For the first such passage, we may turn to the book of Ecclesiastes. When considering the teaching of this book, it is necessary to bear in mind a definite limitation which the author, Solomon, sets to all the inquiries and conclusions contained in the book. This is clearly indicated by one particular phrase that is repeated again and again throughout the book.
For example, in Ecclesiastes 1:3 Solomon asks:
What profit has a man from all his labour
In which he toils under the sun?
This question, with slight variations in the wording, is repeated several times throughout the book. In all, the phrase “under the sun” occurs twenty-nine times.
This particular phrase, “under the sun,” indicates a deliberate limitation which Solomon sets to all his inquiries and conclusions throughout the book. The entire book is concerned only with things under the sun – that is, with things which are temporal and material – things which belong to the realm of time and to this present world order.
We may better understand this particular limitation by reference to the words of Paul.
For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
Here Paul draws a clear dividing line between two different classes of things: the things which are seen and which are temporal; and the things which are unseen and which are eternal.
If we now apply this twofold classification to the book of Ecclesiastes, we find that the whole material contained within the book falls within the first class of things – those things which are seen and which are temporal.
In this book Solomon never seeks to pursue his studies beyond the boundary of the temporal realm into the eternal realm. Whenever he reaches this boundary, he stops and turns back to some new aspect of the temporal realm. This is indicated by the repetition of the phrase “under the sun.” Nothing in the book deals with the realm that is not subject to the sun’s influence – the invisible and eternal realm. However, this invisible and eternal realm is referred to in various ways by nearly all the other books and authors of the Bible – and also by Solomon himself in his other writings.
The realisation of this particular limitation of Ecclesiastes helps us better to appreciate the teaching of the book as a whole and also clears up apparent conflicts between the conclusions of Ecclesiastes and the teaching of other books in the Bible.
With this in mind, we may turn to the particular passage in Ecclesiastes which indicates a difference between the destiny of man’s body at death and that of his spirit.
I said in my heart, “Concerning the estate of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like beasts.” For what happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, which goes down to the earth? (Eccl. 3:18-21).
In accordance with the whole theme of this book, Solomon lays his main emphasis upon the physical, material part of man – his body. Quite correctly, therefore, he points out that in this respect there is no difference between the destiny at death of man and of the lower animals. At death, the body of man, just like that of any other animal, is returned to the earth from which it came and there decomposes once again into its component elements.
However, Solomon goes on to point out that this similarity between the destiny at death of man and of the lower animals ends with the physical body. It does not apply to man’s spirit. Man’s spirit – his immaterial part – has a different destiny from the spirit of the lower animals.
. . . the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the
spirit of the beast, which goes down to the earth? (Eccl. 3:21).
Solomon introduces this verse with a question: “Who knows . . . ?” This is as if he were to say: “We recognise that there is a difference between man and the beasts, but it is outside the scope of our present studies. Therefore, we can only mention it briefly; we cannot pursue it any further.”
What are we to understand by the phrase which Solomon uses concerning the spirit of man at the death of the body? He says: “the spirit of the sons of men . . . goes upward.”
First of all we note that this is in accord with the account of man’s creation, which shows that man’s body came from below, from the earth, but that his spirit came from above, from God (see Gen. 2:7). Because at death man’s spirit is released from the body, the direction of his spirit is once again upward – toward God.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7).
Thus the teaching of Solomon in Ecclesiastes concerning the destiny of man’s spirit at death is brief, but clear, and agrees with indications given in many other passages of Scripture. At death, man’s body returns to the dust, but the destiny of his spirit is upward, toward God.
What takes place when the spirit of man, at death, is released from the body and is brought before God, the Creator?
There appears to be no definite revelation of Scripture concerning this point. However, Scripture does enable us to establish two definite principles in this connection. First, this appearance of the spirit of man before God is not the final judgement, which will take place only after the resurrection. Second, the spirits of the wicked and the ungodly can have no permanent access to the presence of God.
We may therefore conclude that this appearance of the spirit of man before God immediately after death is for one main purpose: to hear the divine sentence appointing to each spirit the state and the place it must occupy from the time of death up to the time of resurrection and final judgement. Thereafter, each spirit is consigned to its duly appointed state and place and continues there until called forth again at the resurrection of the body.
The Righteous Separated From the Wicked
What is the condition of departed spirits in this period that intervenes between death and resurrection?
Doubtless there is much concerning this that God has not seen fit to reveal in the Bible. However, two facts are made clear: 1) After death there is a complete and permanent separation between the departed spirits of the righteous and the wicked. 2) The condition of the departed spirits of the righteous was different in the period before the death and resurrection of Jesus from their condition now, in this present dispensation.
Over and above these two clearly established facts, the Bible does from time to time lift a corner of the veil between this world and the next, giving us a momentary glimpse of that which lies beyond.
An example is the biblical account of God’s judgement upon the oppressing king of Babylon.
Hell [Sheol] from beneath is excited about you,
To meet you at your coming;
It stirs up the dead for you,
All the chief ones of the earth;
It has raised up from their thrones
All the kings of the nations.
They all shall speak and say to you:
“Have you also become as weak as we?
Have you become like us?” (Is. 14:9-10).
This account reveals certain definite facts about the condition of departed spirits. It does not indicate that they have any awareness of events currently transpiring on earth. It does, however, reveal that there is at least some recollection of events that have transpired during the earthly lifetimes of these departed spirits.
Beyond this, it is clear that personality remains intact after death; there is recognition of one person by another; there is communication between one person and another; and there is awareness of present conditions in this place of departed spirits. Furthermore, there is a correspondence in some measure between a man’s state in this world and his state in the next. For those who were kings in this world are still recognised as kings in the next.
We are given a somewhat similar picture of the descent into Sheol of the departed spirit of the king of Egypt (see Ezek. 32:17-32).
Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt,
And cast them down to the depths of the earth,
Her and the daughters of the famous nations,
With those who go down to the Pit:
“Whom do you surpass in beauty?
Go down, be placed with the uncircumcised” (Ezek. 32:18-19).
The king of Egypt was received by the spirits of other great men who went down into the pit before him.
The strong among the mighty
Shall speak to him out of the midst of hell [Sheol]
With those who help him:
“They have gone down,
They lie with the uncircumcised, slain by the sword” (Ezek. 32:21).
A careful examination of this passage shows that it reproduces the same features already noted in the passage from Isaiah. There is persistence of personality; recognition of one person by another; communication between one person and another; and awareness of present conditions in this place of departed spirits.
Let us now turn to the New Testament and see what further light this sheds upon the destiny of man’s spiritual part at death.
The first New Testament passage that we shall consider is the well-known story of the beggar Lazarus who was laid daily at the rich man’s gate (see Luke 16:19-31). There is no suggestion that this story is a mere parable. It is related by Jesus Himself as an actual historical incident that had taken place at some time prior to that point in Jesus’s earthly ministry – that is, in the dispensational period prior to Jesus’s death and resurrection. Following is Jesus’s description of the destinies of Lazarus and the rich man after their deaths.
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:22-26).
There is much in this passage that confirms the conclusions we had already formed from the Old Testament. At death the body by burial is returned to the earth, but the spirit moves out into a new kind of existence. In this existence after death there is persistence of personality; there is recognition of one person by another; there is consciousness of present conditions. There is also some recollection of the previous life on earth. This is brought out by the words of Abraham to the rich man: “Son, remember . . .”
All this agrees with the picture given in the Old Testament.
However, this account in Luke adds one further, very important fact. After death the destiny of the spirits of the righteous is quite different from that of the spirits of the wicked.
Both Lazarus and the rich man found themselves within the realm of departed spirits called in Hebrew “Sheol” and in Greek “Hades,” but their destinies there were quite different. The rich man’s spirit was in a place of torment; the spirit of Lazarus was in a place of rest. Between these two places was fixed an impassable gulf that could not be crossed from either side.
The place of rest, set apart for the departed spirits of the righteous, is here called “Abraham’s bosom.” This title would indicate that this place is ordained for the spirits of all those who in their earthly pilgrimage followed in the footsteps of faith and obedience marked out by Abraham, who for this reason is called “the father of all those who believe.”
Jesus the Pattern and the Proof
Hitherto, the facts which we have gleaned from Scripture concerning the destiny of departed spirits all deal with events that transpired prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We shall now go on to see what the Bible reveals about the experience of Jesus Himself during the period between His death and resurrection.
Between Death and Resurrection
The first passage we shall consider is a prophetic anticipation of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:8-11).
In Acts 2:25-28 Peter quotes these verses in full. In Acts 13:35 Paul quotes one of these verses. Both Peter and Paul alike interpret these words as a direct prophecy of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. Peter points out that, though these words were spoken by David, they do not apply to David because David’s soul was left for many centuries in Sheol and his body suffered the process of corruption. Therefore this is one of many messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, spoken by David, yet referring not to David himself but to David’s promised seed, the Messiah, Jesus Jesus.
Applied in this way to Jesus, these words of David in Psalm 16 reveal two things that transpired at the death of Jesus. First, His body was laid in the tomb but did not suffer any process of corruption. Second, His Spirit descended into Sheol (the place of departed spirits) but did not remain there for longer than the period between His death and His resurrection.
This Old Testament revelation is confirmed by the more detailed revelation of the New Testament. Jesus said to the penitent thief beside Him on the cross:
Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).
The word paradise means literally “a garden” and is one of the names given to that place in the next world which is reserved for the departed spirits of the righteous.
And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commend My spirit.’ ” And having said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46).
By the words “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit,” we understand that Jesus here committed the destiny of His spirit at death into the hands of His heavenly Father. His body, He knew, was to be laid aside in the tomb; but the destiny of His spirit was to be decided by God, His Father.
In all this we see that Jesus, having taken upon Himself, in addition to His divine nature, the nature of humanity, passed through the same experiences that await each human soul at death. His body was committed to the tomb in burial, by the hands of men; but His spirit was committed into the hands of God, and its destiny was settled by the sentence of God.
What happened to the spirit of Jesus after it was thus released at death from the earthen vessel of His body? Paul says, concerning Jesus:
(Now this, “He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (Eph. 4:9-10).
Again, in 1 Peter 3:18-20 we read:
For Jesus also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.
If we combine the various revelations contained in these passages, we may form the following outline of the experiences through which the spirit of Jesus passed.
His spirit descended into Sheol, the place of departed spirits. On the day of His death upon the cross, He went first to the place of the spirits of the righteous, called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom.” Since the Gospel record indicates that the death of Jesus on the cross preceded the death of the two thieves, it seems natural to suppose that Jesus was in Paradise to welcome the departed spirit of the penitent thief who followed Him there.
From Paradise Jesus then went further down into that area of Sheol reserved for the spirits of the wicked. It would appear that His descent into this place of torment was necessary for Him to complete the work of atonement for man’s sin, since He had to endure in full not merely the physical but also the spiritual consequences of sin.
At some stage while in this lower realm of Sheol, Jesus preached to the spirits of those who had lived wickedly in the days of Noah – that is, the antediluvian age – and who had consequently been consigned to a special place of imprisonment in Sheol. (The Greek verb here translated “preached” is directly connected with the Greek noun herald. It does not therefore necessarily indicate that Jesus “preached the gospel” to the spirits in prison, but merely that He made to them some proclamation such as a herald would make.)
Then, at God’s appointed moment, when all the divine purposes of the atonement had been accomplished, the spirit of Jesus ascended up again from the realm of Sheol to this present temporal world. At the same time His body, which had been lying lifeless in the tomb, was raised up from death, and spirit and body were once again reunited to form a complete personality.
But now Jesus is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Jesus all shall be made alive (1 Cor. 15:20,22).
Paul indicates that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead set a pattern which is to be followed by all men. In this pattern we may distinguish two main threads: 1) Man’s immaterial part – his spirit – is to come forth once again from the realm of departed spirits; 2) his material part – his body – is to be raised up again from death.
In this way spirit and body are once again to be reunited, thus reconstituting the complete personality of man, with its material and immaterial parts – its three elements of spirit, soul and body.
Destiny of the Christians at Death
In order to complete our brief outline of this subject, it is necessary to carry our study beyond the time of Jesus’s own death and resurrection and to consider what the New Testament reveals concerning the destiny at death of true professing Christians in this present dispensation. We shall see that the New Testament indicates one important difference between the period that preceded Jesus’s resurrection and that which followed it.
As we have already seen, prior to Jesus’s resurrection the departed spirits of the righteous were consigned to a certain area of Sheol, the netherworld, which was called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom.” Once full atonement for sin had been accomplished, however, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, thereafter the way was open for the spirits of the righteous to ascend immediately and directly into heaven and into the presence of God Himself.
This is made plain by a number of passages in the New Testament, including the account of the stoning of Stephen, the first Christians martyr (see Acts).
But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56).
Then the account closes as follows.
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60).
In the moments just before death, Stephen was granted a vision of Jesus in glory at the right hand of God. His prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” expressed his assurance that immediately upon the death of his body, his spirit would ascend into heaven into the presence of God.
This is confirmed by the way in which Paul also speaks about death.
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord . . . We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6,8).
These words of Paul imply two things: 1) While the spirit of the believer remains within his body, it cannot be in the immediate presence of God.
2) As soon as the spirit of the believer is released by death from the body, it has direct access to the presence of God.
Paul returns to the same thought again in Philippians, where he weighs the relative merits of being released by death from his physical body or of remaining longer in his body in order to complete his earthly ministry.
For to me, to live is Jesus, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Jesus, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (Phil. 1:21-24).
Here Paul considers two alternatives before him: 1) to remain in the flesh – that is, to continue longer in his present life here on earth in his physical body, or 2) to depart and be with Jesus – that is, for his spirit to be released from his body by death and thus to enter directly into the presence of Jesus in heaven.
These examples of Stephen and Paul make it plain that, when a true Christians in this present dispensation dies, his spirit is released from his body and goes immediately and directly into the presence of Jesus in heaven. This direct access for the Christians believer into the presence of God in heaven has been made possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, by which full and final atonement has been made for sin.
Prior to Jesus’s atonement, the departed spirits of the righteous were consigned to a special area in Sheol, the netherworld. This special area was a place of rest and comfort, not of torment or punishment. Nevertheless, it was far removed from the immediate presence of God.
We may now apply the conclusions we have reached to the doctrine of the resurrection. The pattern for the resurrection of all men is set by the resurrection of Jesus Himself. That is to say, the departed spirit is called forth from the place to which it has been consigned by the sentence of God – whether in the realm of heaven or of the netherworld. At the same time, the body is raised up by resurrection from death. Spirit and body are thus reunited, and the complete personality of man is reconstituted.
Resurrection Reassembles the Original Body
At this point there is a difficulty that often troubles the carnal mind concerning the resurrection of man’s physical body.
Suppose that a man has been dead two or three thousand years and that his body has been totally resolved into its original material elements. Or suppose that a man has been killed in war by the explosion of a bomb or a shell, and his body has been totally disintegrated by the force of the explosion so that no humanly recoverable traces of the body remain. Is it reasonable, in such circumstances, to expect that, at the moment of resurrection, the material elements of bodies such as these shall be regathered, reconstituted and resurrected complete once again?
The answer must be that, for those who acknowledge the unlimited wisdom, knowledge and power of God, there is nothing incredible or impossible in this doctrine. Furthermore, when we take time to consider what the Bible reveals concerning the wisdom and knowledge of God displayed in the original creation of man’s body, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body appears both natural and logical.
In Psalm 139 David speaks of the original process by which God formed man’s physical body. Nearly the whole of this psalm is devoted to extolling the fathomless wisdom, knowledge and power of God. In several verses David deals in particular with these attributes of God as displayed in the formation of his human, physical body.
For You have formed my inward parts;
You have covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvellous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame [that is, my physical body] was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skilfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance [my physical body], being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them (Ps. 139:13-16).
Here David is speaking not about the immaterial part of his nature – his spirit and soul – but about the material part of his nature – his physical body – which he denotes by the phrases “my substance” and “my frame.”
Concerning the process by which God brought his physical body into being, David reveals two facts of great interest and importance:
1) The material, earthly elements out of which David’s body was to be formed were specially appointed and prepared a great while beforehand by God, while these material elements were still in the lowest part of the earth.
2) God had appointed the precise number, dimensions and material of all the constituent members of David’s body long before his body ever actually came into being.
David’s account of the process that produced the materials for his body is remarkably confirmed by the conclusions of Dr. Fujita, a prominent Japanese pharmacologist who spent many years seeking an answer to the question, What is life? His research was confined to the material realm. Within this realm he analysed many different forms of life, both animal and vegetable. Eventually he concluded that minerals are the basic, common constituent in all these forms.
However, the revelation of Scripture goes beyond these bare scientific facts. It discloses that God keeps a complete and detailed record of all the elements that make up our bodies. There is no part too small or too unimportant to be included in God’s record. Jesus tells us:
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
In the light of this revelation, we find that there is a close and illuminating parallel between the original process by which God formed man’s physical body and the process by which He will once again resurrect that body from death.
In the original process of forming man’s body, God first appointed and prepared its various material elements while they were still in the earth. Then, as these appointed elements were assembled together to constitute man’s body, God kept a precise and careful record of each part and each member.
After death the body decomposes once again into its material elements. But God, who foreordained the special elements of each individual body, still keeps a record of each element. At the moment of resurrection, by His same creative power, He will once again reassemble every one of the original elements and thus reconstitute the same body.
The only major difference is that the original process of forming the body was apparently gradual, while the process of reconstituting the body at the resurrection will be instantaneous. However, in relation to God’s supreme and sovereign control of both time and space, the actual length of time required is of no significance whatever.
If we do not accept this biblical account of the destiny of man’s body, then we have no right to speak of a resurrection – that is, of a process of raising again the second time. If the elements which make up man’s body at resurrection are not the same as those which originally made up his body, then there is no logical or causal connection between the first and the second body. The two bodies are in no way related to each other, either in time or in space. In that case we should not be able to say that God resurrected (or raised up) man’s body. We should have to say instead that God equipped man’s spirit with a totally new body, unconnected in any way with the previous body.
This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that there is direct continuity between man’s original body and the body with which he will be provided at the resurrection. The continuity consists in this: that the same material elements which formed the original body will once again be reassembled to form the resurrection body.
Confirmation of this wonderful truth is found first and foremost in the resurrection of Jesus Himself. When Jesus first appeared to His disciples in a group after His resurrection, they were frightened, supposing that what they saw was a ghost, a disembodied spirit. However, Jesus immediately reassured them and gave them positive proof of His identity and of the reality of His body.
“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet (Luke 24:39-40).
One of the disciples, Thomas, was not present on this occasion, and he would not accept the account of the incident which the other disciples gave him. However, a week later Jesus appeared to the disciples again when Thomas was also present, and this time He addressed Himself directly to Thomas.
Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27).
From these passages we see that Jesus was careful to give His disciples the plainest evidence that after His resurrection He had a real body, and that His body was the same that had been crucified. The evidence was in His hands and feet and in His side, which still bore the marks of the nails and of the spear.
In other respects His body had undergone important changes. It was no longer subject to the limitations of a mortal body in this present world order. Jesus could now appear or disappear at will; He could enter a closed room; He could pass between earth and heaven. However, with due allowance made for these changes, it was still in other respects the same body that had been crucified.
Furthermore, Jesus also promised His disciples that their bodies would be resurrected no less complete than His own. In Luke 21 Jesus first warned His disciples of great opposition and persecution awaiting them. In particular He warned them that some of them would actually be put to death. Nevertheless, He went on to give them a clear promise of the resurrection of their bodies.
You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will send some of you to your death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost (Luke 21:16-18).
Notice carefully what Jesus says here. The disciples will be hated, persecuted, killed. Yet, at the end of it all, “not a hair of your head shall be lost.” This does not refer to the preservation of their physical bodies intact in this life. We know that many of the early professing Christians – as also those of later ages – suffered violent death, mutilation, burning and other processes that marred and destroyed their physical bodies. Therefore the promise of every hair being perfectly preserved does not refer to this present life but to the resurrection of their bodies from the dead.
At the resurrection every element and member of their original physical bodies, foreordained, numbered and recorded by God, will by God’s omnipotence once again be regathered and reconstituted – a perfect body, a glorified body, but still the same body that had previously suffered death and decomposition.
Such is the picture that the Bible gives of the resurrection of man’s body – wonderful in its revelation of God’s unlimited wisdom, knowledge and power, yet perfectly consistent with logic and with the principles of Scripture.