Friday, September 10, 2010

The Final Resurrection, Part II

Coffee With Calvin has been on vacation for the past few days. I took my copy of the Institutes with me, but it seemed as if every time I had internet service, we were really busy. At times when no service was available, I had some time when I could have worked on this. Well, I am back in town and getting back into my regular routine.

Calvin spent these sections refuting different errors related to the final resurrection of the flesh. First, he looks at the Sadducees and others who deny a resurrection of the flesh at all. The Sadducees even believed that our souls were mortal, not just our bodies. Calvin contends that the very act of burying the dead signifies a hope for the resurrection. He asks, "Why the sacred and inviolable custom of burial but as an earnest of new life?" Hank Hanegraaff makes a cogent argument for burial as opposed to cremation. Ancient Greeks performed cremation to rid the soul of the body, so that it could be released. Burial shows that we are hopeful that these same bodies will rise again as Scripture has promised. It is not that God is unable to raise a cremated body, it is an expression of our hope of resurrection that one chooses to be buried.

The chiliasts promote an idea of Christ having a thousand-year reign upon earth. Christ's reign is not limited to a fixed period of time, because His reign is eternal. Calvin contends that the chiliasts misunderstand Revelation 20:4 and that the number "'one thousand' does not apply to the eternal blessedness of the church but only to the various disturbances that awaited the church, while still toiling on the earth." Instead of limiting Christ's reign, Calvin continues, "all Scripture proclaims that there will be no end to the blessedness of the elect or the punishment of the wicked." One example from Scripture reads, "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life," (Matthew 25:46, New King James Version).  God is not limited to a particular time period.  Calvin writes, "God's majesty, and also his justice...are eternal."

He takes on a couple of errors which had come up by some in the church.  Some believed that both the body and soul die, but then both the body and soul would eventually be resurrected.  Others believed that only the body dies, but the soul is clothed in a new body.  Calvin quickly refuted both of these ideas.  The soul is immortal because it is in the image of God.  Therefore, it does not die when the body dies.  Calvin then instructs the readers to not be too curious about the intermediate state of the soul after the body dies.  He was always telling his readers not to be too curious about things that we do not have a clear answer to from Scripture. Rather than being curious, he writes, "Meanwhile, since Scripture everywhere bids us wait in expectation for Christ's coming, and defers until then the crown of glory, let us be content with the limits divinely set for us: namely, that the souls of the pious, having ended the toil of their warfare, enter into blessed rest, where in glad expectation they await the enjoyment of promised glory, and so all things are held in suspense until Christ the Redeemer appear."

The second error of receiving new bodies he deals with next.  We do admit that everything that exists in us right not is not worthy of heaven, but it does not prevent the resurrection of our bodies.  We are members of Christ's body, therefore we have been sanctified to Him.  Since we are sanctified by Christ, God will not condemn to eternal damnation what has been declared sacred.  Calvin moves into numerous passages which show that our bodies will be resurrected.  For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:53 reads, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." Calvin asks about this passage, "If God made new bodies, where would this change of quality appear?" Later he quotes Daniel 12:2, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt." On this passage he points out, "...He does not call forth new matter from the four elements to fashion men, but dead from their graves." Calvin points out many more passages, too many to list here.

We should always remain confident of the resurrection of our bodies. Calvin writs, "in Scripture, the Spirit of God is continually urging us to hope for the resurrection of our flesh." In Colossians 2:12 Paul tells us that we are buried with Christ in our baptism, then raised with Him through faith. Calvin paraphrases Philippians 3:20-21, "We await a Redeemer from heaven, who will conform our lowly body to his glorious body." Calvin addresses certain burial rites, claiming that they did not come out of superstition, but they show hope in the resurrection of the flesh. Interestingly, Calvin notes even the word "cemetery" is hopeful. It comes from a word meaning "sleeping place" which indicates that the inhabitants will rise again.

Our bodies will rise, but they will be different. "Although we shall retain the substance of our bodies, there will be a change, that its condition may be far more excellent. Therefore, that we may be raised, the corruptible body will not perish or vanish, but, having laid aside corruption, will put on incorruption." Even those who are still alive at the second coming of Christ will be changed. Paul writes, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1 Corinthians 15:51).

It is not just the righteous that will be raised from the dead, but also the wicked. When Christ comes, we are told that he will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). The resurrection of the wicked shows again God's kindness to all, which makes them even more inexcusable. God's heavenly glory is reserved for His people alone, not the wicked.

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