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By Ted Schroder
April 30, 2006

Some of the most vehement objections to the resurrection of the dead come from rationalists who will not admit that there can be any non-natural evidence to support it. They discount any records that state that angels proclaimed that Jesus was not in the tomb but risen from the dead. They dismiss the claims of any witnesses who assert that they saw the risen Christ, as either hallucinatory, or an expression of their inward faith in the enduring presence of Jesus.

In other words, they say, the disciples experienced visions not hard historical facts. As naturalists they cannot conceive of a future beyond death. Their categories do not permit them to see resurrection as anything other than as a metaphor for a spiritual legacy. The "Easter story was not written as evidence, to persuade the readers of Jesus' resurrection; it offered its readers, already reborn, a way to reimagine, redefine and understand themselves." (Robin Griffith-Jones, TLS, April14, 2006) Such are the lengths some theologians go to make sense of Christianity without admitting to the possibility of supernatural, miraculous, bodily resurrection.

St. Paul turns the tables on such thinking in 1 Corinthians 15 when he uses the analogies of nature to explain the resurrection of the body. He answers the question: "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?'" (v.35)

His answer uses three analogies from nature. The first analogy is that of the seed and the plant. From the seed comes the plant. But first it must be sown in the earth. It must decompose in order for new life to grow. Jesus used a similar analogy for the fruitfulness of sacrifice: "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24) So, Paul argues, "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else." (36,37) The seed differs markedly in appearance with the plant that grows out of it. The plant is physically much greater in size than the seed.

You would never guess that the plant came from the seed except that it is connected in its germination. So it is with our resurrection bodies. They are connected with our earthly bodies but they are so very different, they are so much greater. If this can be so for a seed and a plant why can it not be so for the earthly and the resurrection body? This is why the garden, with its yearly miracle of the renewal of its annual cycle of life into death followed by resurrection, reminds us of the possibilities of faith.

Familiarity with the marvel of horticultural sowing and growth sometimes dulls our sense of wonder. If we did not know, how could we ever guess that casting a seed into the ground and burying it is the way to produce living plants. Why, then , should we regard as incredible the transformation of a dead body? The beauty of flowering plants, the fragrance they often produce, and the canopy of trees all evoke a sense of new and enduring life.

As Joyce Kilmer wrote: I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. "What is life after all but a flower that throws up its leaves from the dark earth into the light, unfurls ever larger until, at its zenith, its petals open in response to the warmth of the sun? But such a blossom also fades and falls, to return once more to the earth from whence it sprang. And so do we.

Can anything in life be more beautiful than making such a mirror of the human condition?" (Roy Strong, The Laskett, p.214) The second analogy is that of different species. "God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another, fish another." (38,39) As plants differ in form from microscopic fungi and moss to towering oaks, so do all the different species differ in form: mammals, fish, and birds.

Over 300,000 plant species and more than one million animal species have been identified, and 15-20,000 new ones are identified every year. Over half the living species are insects and one-third of these are beetles. If such variety exists in the earthly world, why can there not be a resurrection species? Just because it has not been identified in this world does not preclude it from being found in the next. The third analogy is that of the celestial bodies.

The universe is ever-expanding and revealing to us new bodies. The more we try to explore the universe the more we realize how vast and immeasurable it is. Photographs from outer space amaze us with their images of planets, moons, nebulae, asteroids, comets, and other celestial bodies. St. Paul uses the Greek word "doxa" to describe them. It means "glory". When we sing the doxology, we are praising God for his glory. Each celestial body has its glory, its splendor, that evokes from us reverence, awe and worship. "The sun has one kind of splendor (glory), the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor." (41) If God can create this kind of universe, he is capable of creating another kind of body that will inhabit the new heavens and the new earth he has promised. Nothing is beyond him. Nothing can limit him. "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead." (42) The characteristics of the body that is sown are contrasted with the characteristics of the body that is grown.

The resurrection body will be far more glorious than the mortal body. It will be imperishable - not subject to illness, deterioration, or death. It will be perfect and honorable - not subject to sin, shame, or sullied in any way. It will be strong and powerful - not subject to weakness, frailty, vulnerability or disability. It will be filled with the Spirit, producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - not subject to temptation and self-centeredness.

St. Paul then contrasts the earthly body and the resurrection body by comparison between Adam and Jesus. Adam was a creature of the dust, who received the life-giving Spirit, whereas Jesus was not only earthly but also a life-giving Spirit from heaven. We who are in Christ bear the likeness, not only of the earthly man, but will bear also the likeness of the man from heaven. (44-49) What does that mean? When the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples "they were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.'" (Luke 24:37-39)

Tom Wright introduced the term "transphysical" to describe the body of the risen Jesus. There is substance. There is continuity. There is personal identity. "It is I myself!" What was true for Jesus can also apply to us. We are not to be disembodied, but rather re-embodied, only much better. What do we take into the new heavens and the new earth we will inhabit? "And he has taken with him all the treasures of mind and soul which by God's grace he has won for himself on earth.

A man can take nothing of the external things - of gold or lands. Nothing of what he HAS but all of what he IS - all that he has gained IN HIMSELF. The treasures of memory, of disciplined powers, of enlarged capacities, of a pure and loving heart. All the enrichment of the mind by study, all the love of man, all the love of God, all the ennobling of character which has come through the struggle after right and duty. These are the true treasures which go with us into that land where neither rust nor moth doth corrupt." (The Gospel of the Hereafter, J. Paterson-Smyth, p.94) C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, brilliantly imagines what resurrection looks like.

The contrast between hell and heaven is described in terms of size - hell is microscopic in comparison to heaven. "All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.... All loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all." (p.123) The contrast is also described in terms of substance.

The more heavenly a person is, the more solid she becomes. The more hellish a person is, the more ghostly and immaterial he appears. The transformation of the earthly body is needed in order for us to survive in the new heavenly environment. Flesh and blood, or mere mortality, cannot experience the kingdom of God. "They are excellent vehicles for the message of the human personality in space and time, but quite inadequate for it in a mode of existence where space and time are meaningless concepts.

That is why this great change that Paul speaks of, this metamorphosis, has to take place. Just as the caterpillar has to be changed into the butterfly in order to 'inherit' the air, so we have to be changed in order to inherit heaven. There is simply no alternative." David Winter, Hereafter, p.67)

The body must be imperishable and immortal to enter into its new state. How does this happen? It is a mystery. It is an instantaneous change - "in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet...and we will be changed." (50-53) Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his Journal about his belief about the resurrection. 'There is something very specific that I have to say, and it weighs on my conscience that I dare not die without saying it. For the minute I die and leave this world, I will then (as I see it) instantly (so frightfully fast does it happen!) I will then be infinitely far from here, at another place, where even that very second (what frightful speed!) the question will be put to me: Have you carried out your errand, have you very specifically said the specific something you were to say? And if I have not done it what then?"

When all this happens, death is swallowed up in the victory achieved through our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus we are safe and secure. We need not worry about the future. That is taken care of by the Lord. Instead we are to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because we know that it is worthwhile. Our efforts will be rewarded. Nothing that we do for the Lord will be wasted or lost. (54-58)

This is the Gospel message. This is the "sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ." "Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

--An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com Amelia Plantation Chapel, Amelia Island, Florida

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