|Volume 23 Number 3 March 2021
T. Pierce Brown
Although we do not remember which song book we used as we sang about it, we feel sure that most of our readers will remember the song that says, “I shall know Him by the prints of the nails in His hands.” We have a feeling, too, that some of the poets or classical writers have alluded to the nail-scarred hands of Jesus as if they would be a mute witness of His love for us throughout eternity.
One of my most beloved Bible teachers, the late R.C. Bell, tried to teach us that the body of Jesus that He showed Thomas and the other apostles was His glorified body that He now has. We doubted it 50 years ago and still do. The reason we bring it up now is not because we consider it worth an argument, but because we think it suggests a very important principle. We need constantly to examine our opinions and see if we can determine whether we got them from Milton, Moses, men, the Jesuits, Jews or Jesus. Our own conviction is that it may be better to be wrong about some trivial matter and have the right attitude toward truth than to be right about it and have the wrong attitude. We are not implying that it is more important to have the right attitude than it is to teach true doctrine, but we are saying that many false and dangerous doctrines have been believed because of a wrong attitude toward truth.
To those of you who have been taught in class or song that the resurrected body of Jesus is the body He now has, and will have forever, let us raise a few questions. First, why do you assume so? Is it because He could appear and disappear at will after His resurrection? If so, do you assume that He could not do that before He died, when He had His natural body?
Is it because you think He was so changed that His disciples did not recognize him (Luke 24:10)? If so, do you think that “their eyes were holden” means the same as “His body was changed?” Is it because the angels said (Acts 1:11) that He would come “in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven?” If so, do you think “in like manner” must mean “with a body of the same nature” rather than “openly, and in the clouds,” or some other things that relate to “manner”? Is there any logical, theological or linguistic reason why “in like manner” must mean “with the same kind of body?” All these so-called reasons we heard and refuted 50 and more years ago.
There may be some other, more valid reasons why some supposed we should conclude that His resurrected body was His present, glorified one, but we do not remember ever hearing anyone present them. Now let us note some difficulties with the assumptions that the resurrected body of Jesus was a glorified or spiritual one like ours will be.
First, when Paul dealt with the question, “With what body do they come?” in 1 Corinthians 15:35, he taught that the body that is planted is not the body that will come up (v. 37). This evidently was not the case with Christ, for His flesh did not see corruption (Acts 2:31) and His body apparently bore all the marks of identification that would show it to be the same body.
If one assumes that His body will bear throughout eternity the physical marks of human torture and disfigurement, then one has a right to assume the same about our glorified bodies – warts, scars, wrinkles and all. If not, why not? One may assume that the glorious marks of His physical torture would be appropriate for Him to wear throughout eternity as a wonderful reminder to us of His sacrifice for us. One may assume that the scars of smallpox or the lion’s paw on the face of another who died the martyr’s death would not be appropriate as a reminder of his sacrifice for Christ. Yet, if you assume either or both, we hope you will be discerning enough to recognize that it is but an assumption with no necessary connection to the Bible or logic.
When I suggested to my beloved teacher that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” and that Jesus had “flesh and bones” after His resurrection (Luke 24:49), his reply was, “But it says nothing about blood.” Apparently, he assumed that Jesus had flesh and bones but no blood. He could eat fish and honeycomb, perhaps carry out all the functions of digestion, assimilation and elimination, but had no blood! Why one needs to assume that, or would want to, we never learned.
However, the primary difficulty in my mind which was never answered in class (nor was it answered about 30 years later when I talked with him again in private) was this: In 1 John 3:2, we find, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as He is.”
Note carefully: John saw him as He was after His resurrection. If He were then like He is now, John would have known what He is like. Yet, John did not know what He is now like! Therefore, His body after the resurrection, while still on earth, was not His glorified body. Our bodies, after the resurrection, will be different, for they will be like His now is. If His body bears the physical scars of His earthly state, then from what John says, we conclude that ours will too. I neither believe that nor know anyone who does. Nor do I know anything in the Bible that forces us to the conclusion that a man who had his leg chewed off by a lion for his faith in Christ (or anything else) will limp through eternity on one leg!
The question may be raised, “If Christ’s body was not changed into His glorified and eternal body at His resurrection, when was it?” I must confess as much ignorance of that (or almost so) as the questioner. However, since we know that Enoch and Elijah had some interesting experiences in this area, we might logically conclude that it changed as He ascended (Acts 1:9) as theirs apparently did, and as ours shall when we are ready to ascend (1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Our purpose in this article is not so much to try to convince anyone that our conclusions are right as it is to try to get more of us to examine our many assumptions more earnestly and to know the difference between opinions and facts.
Handling Aright the Word
In rightly dividing the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15), we must remember God has had three distinct plans, methods and dispensations in His dealing with mankind. The first, the Patriarchal Age, lasted from creation to Sinai and for a period of approximately 2,500 years. In this age, God spoke directly to the fathers. After selecting Israel as His chosen people, God gave them a law for the Israelites alone. This Mosaic Dispensation, from the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai to the death of Christ, lasted approximately 1,500 years. Many of the things God had commanded at the first were incorporated into the Mosaic law. The Jews obeyed these instructions, not because they had been commanded by God in the Patriarchal Age but because God made them a part of the Law of Moses to which they were subject.
Though we today have a new and a better covenant, Jesus included in His New Testament many of the principles found in the Mosaic Law. All believers live in respect of and in obedience to the new covenant because it is the will of God for man today. Again, we do these things, not because some of these principles were part of the Jewish law, because they are incorporated into the New Covenant.
At the death of Christ, the Old Law (Mosaic Law) was fulfilled. Jesus took it out of the way to make room for a New Testament (Colossians 2:14). The new covenant had been prophesied (Jeremiah 31:31). When Jesus died, His new and better covenant came into force (Hebrews 9:16-17). It was dedicated by the blood of Christ.
Many of the problems in the world of Christendom result from a failure to rightly divide the word of truth. There is an Old and a New Testament. There are further divisions in both the Old and New. Jesus divided the Old Testament in this manner: the law, the prophets and the psalms (Luke 24:44).
The New Testament also has subdivisions. If one wishes to learn of the life and teachings of Christ, he must go to the first four books of the New Testament, the books of testimony (John 20:30-31). To learn of the beginning of the church and how people are converted to Christianity, one must go to Acts. It is here that we learn how people render obedience to the Gospel and are translated into the kingdom (Acts 2:47; Colossians 2:13; John 3:3, 5).
The third part of the New Testament is the epistles – letters addressed to the churches telling Christians how to live. The Revelation, prophetic in design and figurative in style, was given for the immediate needs of first century Christians (Revelation 1:1-3).
Every part of God’s Word is important, but we can’t go to a nullified law to prove that instrumental music should be a part of Christian worship. We can’t prove baptism is not essential to salvation by appealing to an event that occurred under the Mosaic Law (Luke 23:39-43). We can’t insist on direct leading of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians by claiming a promise made specifically to the apostles (John 14:26; 16:13).
May we all follow God’s instruction and respect the authority of His Word. May we all put forth a studied (diligent) effort that we prove ourselves worthy workmen that have nothing of which to be ashamed.