According to Scripture the first resurrection, or that of the saints, precedes the resurrection of the wicked by more than a thousand years, and is always carefully distinguished from it. It is the first resurrection, as distinguished from that of the "rest of the dead," who live not again till the thousand years are finished, and whom we then find assembled before the great white throne. (Rev. xx.) It is therefore the resurrection from, not merely death, as all resurrection is, but from or out from the dead - a selective, peculiar one. It is a resurrection in which he who has part is "blessed and holy" by the very fact; nay, a child of God and equal unto the angels: language that could not be applied to a general resurrection, which would include the wicked also. (Rev. xx.; Luke xx.). It is a resurrection which takes place "because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you " - as the margin of Rom. viii. i correctly gives; and is therefore the "resurrection of life" in contrast with the "resurrection of damnation," or rather, "judgment" (Jno. v.). It is a res urrection which takes place at the Lord's coming ("they that are Christ's at His coming ") in contrast with that of the wicked, when the earth and heavens flee away. Scripture thus carefully distinguishes as to time, circumstance, and character between the two.
On the other side, what are the arguments by which the popular creed as to a general resurrection is maintained? I shall not be wrong, I believe, in saying that the strength of the argument lies in the interpretation of three passages, of which one (the gathering of sheep and goats in Matt. xxv.) has nothing to do with resurrection at all, but is the judgment of the living, when the Lord appears; the second (John v. 28, 29) is made to apply only by the false interpretation of "the hour," which does not mean any narrowly limited time, but in verse 25 takes in the whole present time of gospel grace; while the third (Dan. xii. 2), literally taken, will not apply to a general resurrection* at all, and is really a figure, kindred to several elsewhere, of the national revival of God's people, Israel.
(* "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth" cannot possibly be made to mean "all." To the first resurrection it. can apply as little, since in it none will awake to shame and everlasting contempt.)
The consistent teaching of Scripture is then, that when "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, the dead in Christ shall rise first," even before the change of the living saints. But that then "we which are alive and remain shall be "first, changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump," and then - " caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord."
Who would not willingly turn aside from the routine of earthly life, and from its daily struggle, to contemplate this which in one moment of ecstasy shall end it all? We are disappointed only, it may be, that Scripture which deals so little in sensation, so much more with the convictions, describes in terms so brief and simple this glorious scene. Imagination may not supplement this brevity with human thoughts; but meditation may be rightly used to draw from the inspired words, if it were possible, their full depth of meaning. If we did but more fasten our gaze thus upon these wondrous realities as embodied in the very words which with all their brevity, being the Divine words, must best convey them to us, it may be that we should find what we little thought at first, that what was needed to give them to us in power and vividness was, not a fuller description, but a heart sufficiently in earnest to lay hold of what is given.
It is our purpose now, avoiding all rashness of speculation, yet to linger a little upon the blessedness of what is here presented to us. Oh for power to scan its every feature, until nothing of what surrounds us here was so familiar to our hearts! What a lever to lift up heavenward these affections that gravitate so earthward, to realize that at any moment, as we are occupied with daily tasks, in the house or on the highway, we may find with more than ecstasy the life eternal with its pulseless tide pervading a body moulded in an instant to its will, henceforth "the image of the heavenly"! In an instant the life behind, no more to be counted life, dropped into a past from which a great gulf, never to be repassed, separates! Christ's, and in His image Our Beloved ours indeed; we His!
But we must tarry at Resurrection here. What we shall realize then in a moment - and oh, how much more than this - we must be content, in our slow way of acquiring knowledge now, to get before us bit by bit, searching and weighing and meditating, and all the while - and let us never forget it - absolutely dependent upon the teaching of Him who alone conveys to us what "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man," yet "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." "God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
In two ways is death triumphed over when the Lord comes. By the change of the living, it is shown to have no title to assert against the redeemed of the Lord; by resurrection of the dead, that it has no power to retain those over whom its title has seemed to be made good. It is the open manifestation of the truth in the Lord's words to the sorrowing Martha: "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and helieveth in Me shall never die."
Thus He who has "the keys of death and of hades" displays openly His power over both. Death is cancelled, Hades gives up possession. Redemption is completed, as far as the heavenly people are concerned; taking effect now upon the body as before it did upon the soul.
The style in which it is effected has often been remarked. "The Lord Himself shall descend." Why that? Could He not commit it to others? Could He not speak the word from the throne above, and never leave it? Surely, in one sense: but how it should stir our poor, slow hearts to see, when the time of His patience is over, how His heart comes out in the action here. He must come Himself out of the gate of heaven, as we rush out, forgetting all slow formality, to greet the approach of a dear and intimate and long-absent friend. His voice must greet them first of all; His must be the shout that breaks the slumber of the grave, and brings out its tenants. All is accomplished as in a moment; delay is at an end: and this is the fitting introduction to the end which alone satisfies Him whose time has come to see the fruit of His soul's travail - "so shall we be ever with the Lord."
But let us look at these rising dead; and let us not think it necessarily a fool's question, and to be repressed, that which rises involuntarily to our lips, "With what body do they come?" The apostle blames it only as the question of a sceptic, such as we know some of these Corinthians were. But he uses the opportunity to give such an answer as will meet other thoughts than these; and to his answer it cannot be folly to give attention. There are different bodies, he says, and different glories. The grain of wheat you sow dies to give birth to the harvest, and that which you sow you reap, and yet what you sow is not the body that shall be. There is continuity, and in that sense identity; yet there is dissimilarity also between the seed-germ and the plant its product. So with the body: "it is sown, it is raised; " there is continuity and identity as in the figure used; but it is sown in one form, it is raised in another. "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."
The body is the same, though wherein consists the identity it may be quite impossible to define; nor need we define it. Sceptics have urged a renewal of the whole every seven years or less of life, but we have nevertheless a conviction of its being to all intents and purposes the same. The seed-germ and the plant its product are different as to the amount of substance; yet they too are practically identical: and this is the illustration w'hich the apostle employs, as we have seen. Needless as it may seem in the eyes of some, God cares for the very dust of His saints, and their resurrection is the "redemption of the body " - a body already claimed by the Holy Ghost as His temple, and to which He will make good His claim: "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you."
Yet while identity is preserved, and that which thou sowest is quickened out of death - the analogy used here by the apostle - in another way, as He also applies this, "thou sowest not that body that shall be." Incorruption, glory, power, replace the opposites of these; and "a spiritual body," suited to those who are partakers with the "heavenly" Second Man, is the glorious outcome of Divine power working upon the "natural body" in which the saint falls asleep.
This last we must give attention to, for it seems exceedingly little understood, and its misapprehension gives rise sometimes to thoughts misleading further. No doubt we can know but scantily what is implied in "a spiritual body;" yet we may speak positively as to certain things which are not implied in it; and more, we can tell with some exactness what the expression, as an expression, means. But for this it is necessary to have in our minds what Scripture teaches us as to man's present condition, for the phrase is designed to point a contrast between the present and the future one.
"A spiritual body" is contrasted with the "natural body," out of which nevertheless (as the plant out of the seed) it is developed. And this last expression, more exactly given, is rather "a soul body." We have no adjective of "soul" in English, and we can only use the word soul itself as an adjective therefore; meaning by the phrase a "body related to the soul," as "a spiritual body" really means a "body related to the spirit."
The meaning will be at first only a new perplexity to those who are unacquainted with the distinctive force of soul and spirit, as used in Scripture. But it will be found not a mere curious question, as certainly it is one that admits of clear and decisive answer from the Word. I can only briefly state what Scripture teaches as to this here indeed, hut the Word itself, only authoritative, is in all our hands, and what is stated as fact may thus easily be compared with it.
"Spirit and soul and body," if we take Scripture, make up the man - not any class of men as such, but men in general. I say this, because some have the thought of "spirit" being the new nature, and of course only proper to the children of God. The mistake is founded on a misconception of John iii. 6. But while "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" in its own nature, it is never called the spirit of man. "What man knoweth the things of a man," asks the apostle, "save the spirit of man which is in him?" (I Cor. ii. II.) Thus the apprehension of all that is distinctively human belongs to the spirit; and of course all men have it. The beast has not, and God is thus called exclusively the "God of the spirits of all flesh," and the "Father of spirits." The spirit it is that thus brings man into relationship with and responsibility to God, such as no beast has, nor can have. . "Mind" proper is an essential characteristic of it. It is the highest part of his composite being: for "God is a Spirit," and the angels too are "spirits."
The beast on the other hand is, and has, a soul. In the margin of Gen. i. 30 you may read as to the lower creatures, "everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul." The animal life is one of sense, emotion, instinct, often very wonderful, and in its results sometimes apparently superior to reason itself. But even this shows the difference. If there is no defect, - there is no improvement. A bird builds its nest from the first just as it builds its last. The economy of a bee-hive or an ant-hill, with all its marvels of architecture and political combination, never alters in the least. They fill the place God has given them without exhibiting any traces of a fall, of an imperfect condition such as man's work so constantly exhibits: incapable of a place with God such as could admit of a fall at all. Yet these are souls - " living souls " - not immortal, of course, nor human souls, but not merely perfect organisms either; not merely material machines, or automata. Materialism is as far as possible from getting any countenance from Scripture. And man's soul, as the link between his spirit and his body, is that which though, as immaterial, connected with the spirit (and like it, immortal, surely), is on the other hand that which animates the body, so much so that the same word is used in Scripture for soul and life. It is looked at as the seat of the senses, as well as the emotions: it loves, it hates, it joys, it sorrows, and it hungers and thirsts also. A brief examination of Scripture will suffice to show how little our current ideas are in accordance as to this with the exact and persistent language of the Word. "Meat to relieve the soul," "to satisfy the soul, when he is hungry," "cold water to the thirsty soul," "the full soul loatheth the honeycomb": these and such like expressions meet us everywhere.
And yet, as connected with the spirit, the soul in man has to do with God, and with the highest emotions of love and adoration. It is the soul that "follow's hard after God," with desire and longing. The common kinship and distinction between heart and mind, in our ordinary speech, is in fact very much that which in Scripture we find mentioned between soul and spirit. But on the other hand the bodily sensations and appetites which we carefully distinguish from the soul, Scripture ascribes to it in the distinctest way.
And this is the reason why the adjective of soul, wanting in English, is translated twice in our version (Jas. iii. 15, Jude 19) "sensual," - a force which our use of the word now never would have given it; and the "natural" man, too, is in the same way, the man captivated by his senses, - soul, not spirit, led. We may further see too, and thus approach our text more nearly, why a child of Adam, as that, should be called "a living soul." It is man's peculiarity, of all spiritual beings that we know, to be a microcosm - a being in fact in which all the known elements of the universe find place. The mineral, vegetable, animal kingdoms, all find somewhat that they can claim in him; but what is specially remarkable is that which gives materialism all its apparent force, the subjection, in some sense, of that which is spiritual to that which is material.
For what seems purely mental, when we examine it closely, we find ourselves, in a way at first startling to us, indebted to the senses, and through these to the material universe. Powers and faculties there are in the mind, no doubt, which no laws of matter can at all explain. Matter is but the material it uses, as it were: but still so necessary that no observation can be carried on (to our knowledge) without it. Our ideas, our language, our whole mental furniture almost, is borrowed from the world in which we are placed, and to which in this sense we are limited.
This then is why Scripture speaks of us as "living souls." Our spirits, though higher than the soul, are bound to it, in a manner which characterizes us and distinguishes essentially from purely spiritual beings. Our souls too are bound to the bodies which they permeate and vitalize; and how these drag upon and limit them, and through them the spirit itself, we are too constantly and painfully reminded to need much dwelling upon it.
The "natural" body is thus a "soul" body - a body fitted to the soul; and this is what suits one who is characteristically "a living soul." The body, for the higher capabilities of the spirit, is (apart altogether from the fall) inefficient and unequal. The old creation was but after all a step to another which was in God's mind from the beginning; and in this the "spiritual body" - the perfect vehicle and servant of the spirit - will take the place of time natural body, the body suited to the man who was (even as the beasts thus far) a living soul.
The meaning of the expression, "a spiritual body," being ascertained, we are freed from many wrong conjectures as to it. We find that it is not in contrast with a material body, but that material it still is assuredly, as the outcome, though by Divine power, of what is "sown" in the dust. But it is a body fitted now, as never before, to be the servant of the spirit, not confining it to slow acquisitions of knowledge by sense-perception of material things, nor saddling it with the infirmities of a frame constantly exhausting itself and in need of recreation and repair, but able to accompany it in the ceaseless activities of a scene where no night is, or is needed.
It is with reference to this state, we see at once, that the apostle says of "knowledge," that "it shall vanish away," or rather "be made void" (x Cor. xiii. 8). The next verse gives us the reason, "for we know in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away," or made void. It is of the slow, toilsome and imperfect processes of acquiring knowledge (of "knowing ") that he is speaking, and which will necessarily be made void, when the spirit is no longer confined to the attainment of the spiritual by means of groping (for the most part) amid material things. The things known will still remain known; but the knowing of things, in the partial way now necessitated, will be done away, in the perfect apprehension of spiritual knowledge.
It is with express reference to the spiritual body that the apostle further tells us that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (1 Cor. xv. so). These words have again been misunderstood by many who have, upon their warrant, denied the resurrection of the flesh. Yet Job's confident expectation of resurrection was expressed in these terms: "in my flesh shall I see God." The Psalmist also, prophetically speaking of One greater, says: "My flesh also shall rest in hope." And He of whom this was spoken, when risen from the dead, affirms that still He had flesh and bones: "A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have."
Surely this language is decisive. Nor does it in the least conflict with the apostle's words in Corinthians just quoted. For he does not speak of flesh simply, but of flesh and blood, a not infrequent term for man as at present constituted. The Lord, as risen, does not speak any more of "blood;" and a very little consideration will enable us to realize the force and appropriateness of this distinction. Blood is the vehicle of that waste and repair which our present constitution necessitates. The worn-out particles of the body are taken up by it, to be removed from it by the proper organs; while the fresh supply of material is poured into it, to be carried with the circulation to every needy part. In a body no longer dependent upon supply, because no longer subject to waste, blood would naturally have no longer place: and thus the Scripture language finds its explanation.
The "spiritual body" is thus not merely in contrast with that on which is imprinted the stamp of mortality and corruption. It is a body in contrast also with Adam's, when he came fresh with vigour and beauty from under the creating hand of God. Even then, Adam was "of earth, earthy"; in resurrection we put on "the image of the heavenly," and are conformed to our head, the "second man," who is "of heaven." Our resurrection-body is therefore also "our house which is of heaven", heavenly in mould or pattern. It is no restoration of the old creation passed away: it is a new creation, of which the body is now the subject, as the soul and spirit were before.
Yet it is still material. In it matter is redeemed from the reproach under which it has so long lain - is taken up and glorified. By it we are still in connection with a material universe, which Scripture gives no hint of ever passing away. Our link with this is not broken when we are introduced into the heavenly sphere. It is purified, re-adjusted, refined, but never broken. What fields of service in which love - weeping no more - shall bear her precious seed, and fill her hands with golden sheaves of harvest, does this imply! Surely, as the "prepared" body, which the Lord retains forever, is as the "digged ears" of the "Hebrew servant," the pledge of service too highly prized to be ever given up; so the body for us prepared, and like His own, must have a similar meaning as to us. Thus, as man's body as first created was a prophecy of the place he was to fill in the earth to which he belonged; his resurrection-body is a prophecy of the new place and wider relationships he is henceforth to fill with regard to the new creation of which the last Adam is Head. This place we shall have to look at, as Scripture develops it (the Lord willing), at another time.
But thus, while the materialist or the hyper-spiritualist may scoff at the idea, "the spirits of just men," - happy as they may be, and are, "with Christ," while "absent from the body," - are really "perfected" only by resurrection. This body is no more the "tent" or "tabernacle" of the man: it is the "house," the "building of God," prepared for eternity. It is the "clothing" of the spirit, else "naked " - stripped of its possessions in that material universe, which as God's creation, we may not and cannot contemn, and which will yet be to its furthest limits vocal with God's praise. In this temple we are to be His kings and priests forever: the material henceforth no longer a drag upon the spiritual, but its complement and help-meet.