[B34] The Apostles' Creed: The Resurrection of the Body

The Christian faith is not simply that there is to be a continuity of human life, but that the body is to be raised from the dead, reunited with its animating, controlling spirit; and thus, as a complete human being, not as soul only, but body and soul; continue to live on forever after the great awakening.

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34. The Resurrection Of The Body

Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth. — St. John 5:28, 29.

What a wonderful series of pictures we have spread out before us in the Apostles’ Creed. In the First Article we have the sublimely mysterious wonder of creation. No grander, no more awe-inspiring words were ever written than those of the first chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning God said, let there be, … and there was.” No mere human genius ever contrived that form of speech. That is the speech of God.

The Second Article is equally sublime, but of a somewhat different character. It is a sublimity of wisdom and power still, but inter-woven, through and through, with a love higher than heaven in its condescending compassion. It presents to us the spectacle of the infinite God abdicating, for a season, the throne of glory, not only to come down and be associated with mankind, and minister to them in their self-caused mysery; but to take into the closest personal, perpetual union with Himself the nature of those He came to serve. Far above anything ever dreamed of in the most daring flights of human imagination, we have here the picture of God in human flesh and form appearing, working to the end that the sons of earth may be won for heaven.

The Third Article is but little, if any, less wonderfully sublime than the other two. Indeed, there is something here closely analogous to the incarnation of the Second Article. We have here presented to us the mysterious, but real and effective presence of God the Holy Spirit, dwelling in, and operating through, the humble agencies of His own choosing, to the end that there may be brought about the restoration of the Divine image in the sons of men.

It is, indeed, a wonderful series of pictures which is here drawn in bold outline for our contemplation. And the practical benefit is all for man. If we turn from this picture, which shows us God’s activity for man, to the one drawn on the pages of human history of man’s own activity, it is still wonderful. There is much to sadden it is true; but there is also much to quicken the pulse, and bring a glow of pleasure to the face. What vaulting ambitious do we not find among men! What gigantic plans! What great achievements! What deathless hopes! But what is the end of it all! Look! survey the field of human activity. Where are the world-renowned conquerors? Where the dashing heroes who have explored new worlds? Where the constructive geniuses who have built empires? Where the great inventors who have gone so far in harnessing the forces of nature, and making them the servants of man? One word answers all these questions. Death, so far the only unconquered conqueror, has claimed, or is claiming, them all. And is this to be the end? Is God’s great work for man, and man’s great work for himself, all to end in dissolution? The question of the ages has been, “If a man die, shall he live again?” This question the Scriptures fully answers. And the fuller answer of Scripture is summarized in our Creed when it says, “I believe in … the resurrection of the body.” Let this be the subject of our morning meditation.

1. The Resurrection Of The Body

In the first place we shall be necessitated to consider what is meant by the term, the resurrection of the body.

Humanity in general, pagan as well as Hebrew and Christian, has always believed in man’s immortality; the continuity of life after the death of the body. This belief has ever been one of the chief sustaining, strengthening, chastening, elevating forces in human life. Various elements conspire to perpetuate this faith. The abortiveness of so much in man’s life, acting on his inmate conception of the complete, the perfect, is an argument in behalf of life and achievements beyond that now and here attainable. Primarily, however, this belief in an existence after this little span of life has been cut short is a remnant of the truth originally implanted in the soul of man. There is immortality written in the very terms of man’s creation. It is said, “In the image of God created He man.” That which in its inner nature bears the impress of God’s image is imperishable.

The belief in man’s immortality was held by the dwellers on the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates who were earlier than Moses and the prophets, or contemporary with them. It was, from earliest times, a cardinal tenet of all the religio-social philosophies of the far East. Immortality was taught by Plato and Socrates in the days after inspired prophetic utterance had ceased in Israel. Some of these utterances, respecting man’s immortality may have been, probably were, conscious, or unconscious, reflections of the inspired teachings of Israel; for here it is that the clearest utterances on this subject in the ancient world are found. But some of them, unquestionably, were but expressions of the God implanted hope which springs perennial in the human breast. The clearest teachings as to the deathless nature of human life we find in the message of Jesus and his inspired Apostles. Jesus did not only boldly proclaim the doctrine of immortality, He demonstrated it as a fact, especially by His own personal victory over the assaults of death.

We must not forget, however, that immortality and resurrection, though closely related, are two distinct subjects. And with respect to the doctrine of the resurrection of man’s body there is by no means the unanimity among men which we find with respect to immortality. Indeed, this doctrine of the resurrection is distinctly a revelation of God’s Word. The general attitude of those not under the influence of this Word is set forth in the conduct of the men of Athens, of whom it is said that “when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” The heathen generally conceive of the dead as moving about in a world of shadows, with but the faint, filmy semblance of bodies. In other words, that the dead beyond the border are indeed but ghosts of their former selves.

The Christian faith is not simply that there is to be a continuity of human life, but that the body is to be raised from the dead, reunited with its animating, controlling spirit; and thus, as a complete human being, not as soul only, but body and soul; continue to live on forever after the great awakening.

Of the two words most commonly used in the New Testament to give expression to the act or fact of coming forth from the dead, and translated “resurrection,” the one, in its verb form, means “to awaken,” the other, to rise up, or be raised up, from the supineness of death to the flush and vigor of life. And, remember, this is affirmed of the body, the body which has slept in the grave; the body over which has been said the words, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

The body, this complement of organs through which the individual human spirit works, belongs to a complete being. It is part of ourselves, not a mere accident, not a mere vesture, not the temporary prison-house of the soul. The soul does, indeed, survive when the body temporarily falls into decay. It might, in come fashion, subsist eternally without the body. But such a disembodied spirit would never be man in his complete self-hood. Man was not created a mere incorporeal spirit. Before God ever breathed forth the spirit which made man a living soul, He had fashioned the temple for it. And it is evident on every hand that it was never intended that this spirit should subsist without the body. Had not man’s body become sin-infected, and no longer fit, in its present condition, to be the eternal tabernacle of the soul, the latter would never, even temporarily, have been dissevered from the body. But after the process of bodily purification, of which death is the means, has been completed, there is to be a resurrection of the body. The disembodied spirit will again take up its natural habitat, never more to be severed. This resurrection will be universal. All the dead shall be raised. This is what our Creed means when it says. “I believe in … the resurrection of the body.”

As to the nature of the resurrection body, or, as the Apostle puts it, “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” we have presented a problem concerning which we should not be too inquisitive. To this question there is no definite answer in either nature or Revelation. All that we have in either are certain analogies which shed light, but do not fully explain. The most striking illustration of Scripture is that of the grain sown into the ground, which decays and yet perpetuates itself. The conclusion of the great Apostle is, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, 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. … As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall bear the image of the heavenly.”

There is much here that we, in our present state of knowledge, do not, cannot, fully comprehend. The resurrection body will have passed beyond the confines and limitations which obtain in the realm of purely physical things. But everywhere the teaching of Scripture is that the resurrection body is to be the same as the body we now carry, just as the spirit which is to inhabit it is to be the same spirit which left it at death. The only difference in the body will be that it will be sinless, perfect, glorified, made celestial, and fit for heaven.

2. The Foundation

The Ground on which we build our faith in the resurrection of our bodies.

Belief in immortality, as we have seen, is as wide spread as the races of men. Addison thus voiced Plato’s thoughts in His Cato:

“It must be so — Plato, thou reasonest well,
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality?
Or, whence this secret dread and inward horror
Of falling into naught? Why shrinks the soul
Back on herself and startles at destruction?
‘Tis the divinity that stirs within us:
‘Tis heaven itself that points out an hereafter,
And intimates eternity to man.”

The Christian poet has expressed the true doctrine. He says that this universal dread of falling into naught and longing after immortality, is heaven’s intimation to man of an eternal existence. And man has a body as well as a soul. But the participation of the former with the latter in the future life was not by any means universally believed, and when entertained did not rest on any clearly defined ground. There are hints and prophecies in nature of a resurrection of our bodies, science is not without revelations which throws light on the possibility of a resurrection, and the possible nature of etherealized matter; but the human soul wants more than intimations of the fact of our resurrection. We want assurance. Can it be obtained? Where shall we find it? In God’s revealed Word.

The Scriptures of both Testaments teach a resurrection of the body. The patriarch Job could say: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job. 19:25, 26). Isaiah holds out to his distressed people a hope that looked beyond the grave, a future lot in which their bodies would have part. “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they rise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (26:19).

In the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles the resurrection of the body is one of the most frequently stated truths. With them there is no question about eternal life. There was little argument about it. They spoke of eternal life with as much certainty as they did of the present time. About the resurrection of the body more was said, for it may well be that in the olden time this was a truth not as clearly grasp as was the truth of immortality. Listen to the plain statements of Jesus on this subject: “The hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall here His voice, and shall come forth” (St. John 5:28). “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (St. John 11:25). There is no truth more clearly, or more emphatically, taught in God’s Word, and especially in the New Testament, than this of the resurrection of the body.

In addition, however, to the direct teaching of Jesus and the Apostles on the subject of the resurrection of the body, there is an historical fact which makes assurance doubly sure. It is the actual resurrection of the dead and buried body of Jesus Christ. If He had not risen then we might entertain doubts about our resurrection. But He has arisen. Of this there can be no doubt. One of the most liberal of American theologians says: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ seems to me, on the whole, the best attested fact of ancient history.” Now Christ’s resurrection was of the body. “He showed unto them His hands and His side.” He said: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself, handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” Jesus’ resurrection shows the possibility of a resurrection. What God can do for one He can do for all. Jesus arose from the dead as the forerunner, the first fruits, from the dead. If we believe God’s Word, if we believe the words of Christ, we must believe in the resurrection of the body. It is certified by His word, and His words are proven by His deed.

Brethren, let us not be robbed of this precious truth of the resurrection of our bodies. And we are likely to be unless we are careful and prayful. The wise men of the world tell us it is impossible. And not a few of those who regard themselves as the leaders of thought in the Church, no longer believe in a real resurrection of the body, or the flesh. The liberal American theologian of whom we spoke before, and who asserted so positively his belief in Jesus’ resurrection, says in the same article from which the former statement was quoted: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead. I do not believe in the resurrection of the body.” And a good many, who want to be known as advanced thinkers, profess the same view. But we should like to know what the fine appearing phrase: “The resurrection of the dead” means of it does not mean the resurrection of the body.” The soul, the personality, does not rest in the grave. The Scriptures deny the doctrine of the soul-sleepers. Every particle of Scripture evidence supports the oft repeated plain statements of the same Word that the resurrection of the dead means the resurrection of the body, the flesh. On this subject the resurrection of Jesus in the flesh is the last word.

No one denies for a moment that the resurrection of the body rises above the ordinary processes of nature, so far as we now understand them. In other words, the resurrection is a miracle. But miracles are possible with God now as ever. Indeed, miracles may be, when we come to understand them, but the higher level of God’s ordinary working processes. God’s entire creation is filled with the life of God. It is a self-consistent organism. Life is everywhere to triumph over death. Not to believe in the resurrection of the body is to disbelieve many of the plainest statements of our Saviour, and at the same time it means to give up many closely related truths. That reason alone can not grasp the truth we readily admit; but to all objections based on this ground Jesus replies with the all-sufficient answer: “Ye know not the power of God.”

Brethren, whatever questions may come to us, and they do come often and persistently, they come as we peer wistfully into the future; they come as we see our loved ones lowered into the grave; let us take them to Jesus, to Jesus of the Easter morn, and the after-Easter life. The clearest ray of light shot into the future comes from His open grave. He went into death and came back. Across the wild waste there is one footprint which has gone both ways, into the darkness and back into the light. The future is not pathless any more. And, blessed thought, Jesus made the journey only for our good. He died to destroy death. He arose that He might give life to others. If we walk with Him we are safe. All others will leave us as we enter the gloom, Jesus goes with us; and assures us that we shall share in His life and His glory, — and this in our full selves, soul and resurrection body.

3. Practical Applications

Are there any practical, everyday results to which these reflections should lead us?

First of all, the resurrection takes the gloom out of life, it makes life worth while. Death is tragic. To be called from life with its tasks but touched, or only half finished, is pathetic. It is but little less so to have achieved some measure of success, and then say farewell to it all. Death is not the saddest of all sad things only if what is called death in this world means birth in another; and if the things which death requires us to relinquish here are compensated by larger gains beyond. The resurrection of the body is a rift in the cloud which lets the light in.

The truth of a resurrection is of a nature to dispel fear, the fear of which the world is so full, which weighs us down, which intrudes in the very banquet hall, and ever and anon darkens the face and chokes the voice of those who sit as members of the family circle. Think of present conditions, we are suffering from the shock of war, blood flows in streams, millions of the flower of earth’s manhood have fallen in their prime, other millions of hearts are bleeding because of their going; those who were to guide men in the paths of peace have proved traitors to their trust; the demoniac passions of greed, hate, and lust are in the ascendency; but at all times death reigns, circles are broken, hearts bleed, and plans fail. And is man’s little life thus to go out in the darkness of failure. No, this is not the end. This is but the infant, the preparatory stage of life. The grave is to open, and life’s eternal day is to stretch from that time onward. The tangled skein will there be unraveled, its broken ends gathered up and mended.

Mended, did we say? that depends upon how we have lived and died. There is no change in the direction of life after death. The endless future will be the confirmation, and the unfolding of the forces which are molding our lives when the death summons comes. So the thought of resurrection and eternal life come in the nature of a warning to those whose lives are not what they should be, not cleansed by Christ’s blood, not adorned with His righteousness, not ruled by His Spirit. Oh, ye thoughtless and worldly minded men, lost, absorbed, in the hot pursuit of the decaying things of this perishing earth, be warned betimes; remember that you are not escaping responsibilities, or sinking into nothingness when you yield your breath, and return to the dust. The Son of God is going to call you, too, from the grave to receive the reward of your labors. Are you ready to meet the Judge, and hear His just sentence? Only on one condition, if you are wholly His now. We need not be afraid of Jesus as the Judge, if we know Him as our Savior.

To the child of God the thought of a coming resurrection is full of comfort, as well as full of inspiration. Few truths have such a decisive effect on right living as this. It makes men unselfish, it helps them to bear responsibilities and reverses, it gives them a true sense of the dignity and worth of human life, and of the worth of those things which are wrought into life, of the superior value of character in comparison with mere possessions. And as men and women grow old walking with Christ Jesus new joys come which more than compensate for those which are lost. The strength of body wanes, but it is given them more clearly to feel the supporting arm on which they lean. The eye grows dim, but the light grows brighter; indeed, to the godly it is promised that, in a very special sense, it shall be light at eventide. And as they go down into the valley called the valley of death, they find that it is, after all, but the shadow of death, and they fear no evil, for the Lord of life is with them. And on the morrow He wakes them for their eternal day. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

To request a printable copy [PDF] send an email to: editor@lutheranlibrary.org with the title of this post.

Luther's Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles' Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

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