THE IMMORTALITY OF PERSONALITY
By Pastor Glenn Pease
F.W. Boreham, the great Australian preacher, made a fascinating discovery in the book of Job. Job, as you recall, was very wealthy, but in the first chapter he is totally wiped out. All of his livestock and all of his children perish is disaster. When we get to the last chapter, and the battle is over, God is pleased with Job. God rewards him with twice as much as he had before.
He had 7000 sheep in chapter 1; in the end he had 14000 sheep.
He had 3000 camels in chapter 1; in the end he had 6000 camels.
He had 500 yolk of oxen to begin; in the end he had 1000 oxen.
He had 500 donkeys at the start; in the end he had 1000 donkeys.
Everything doubled, for the Lord gave him twice what he had before, it says in v.10. But Boreham rightly asks, how can it be said he had twice as many of everything when he had only the same number of sons and daughters? He had 7 sons and 3 daughters to begin, and it says he had 7 sons and 3 daughters in the end. This figure did not double as did all the others. Why? Boreham says the answer should be obvious. When you lose animals you have lost them forever, but when you lose a child you lose them only for a time. They are still yours even though they are with God and not in your presence. So Job really had 14 sons and 6 daughters, but only half of them were on earth. The other half were separated from him, and were in the presence of God. Persons do not cease to exist because they die is the clear implication, and this is the teaching of both the Old and the New Testaments.
Wordsworth wrote a poem called We Are Seven. It is about a little girl being asked how many are in her family. She tells of those grown up and moved away, and of a brother and sister in the cemetery, but she insists they are a family of seven. The inquirer persists--
How many are you, then, said I,
If they two are in heaven?
Quick was the little maids reply,
O master! we are seven.
But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!
Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
and said, Nay, we are seven!
Her stubborn conviction is based on both the Old and New Testaments, which stress the truth that once a person, always a person. Personality and individuality is the whole point of immortality. Every human being that is conceived is a unique creation with the potential of eternal fellowship with God.
Death can step in and rob life of development at any point. That is why death is an enemy. Let us never forget, even in this most optimistic chapter in the Bible, Paul still calls death the last enemy to be destroyed. Our hope of victory over death ought not to blind us to the tragic side of this great enemy, and lead us to become superficial and whitewash the evil this enemy can do. It can rob us of much, but it cannot rob us of our eternal personality. That is why Paul makes such a big issue out of the resurrection of the body. The body is the greatest symbol of our reality as a personality. We are linked forever to the identity we have gained in the body.
If Jesus was not raised in His bodily form, how could anyone ever be sure it was Jesus? If Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mt. of Transfiguration as just two glorified forms, how could anyone ever know they were Moses and Elijah? For immortality to have any real meaning the body must be raised immortal, for without the body a key element of the person is missing.
Salvation is not complete unless the whole person is saved. Sin is what made the body a hindrance to the spirit. Sin is what led to the body's decay and death. If Jesus died to restore all that sin has robbed us of, then that has to include the body. Paul in Rom.8 tells us the reason for much of the suffering in this life is the fact that we live in fallen bodies. Our bodies are subject to pain and sickness and all the evils that sin has brought into this world. We get cancer and have heart attacks and get hit by cars, not because God wills it, but because we have bodies that are not yet saved. Paul says we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. We are saved right now, if we have trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior. We are a part of the family of God and have eternal life. But the fact remains, our bodies are still subject to death. We are not completely saved until the resurrection of the body, and we are again a total personality with body, mind, and spirit. The spirit is resurrected in time when we are born again by faith in Christ, but the body is not resurrected until Christ comes again. In this second resurrection our body and spirit are reunited forever, and only then will we be completely saved.
When we go back to the creation of man we see God creating the body of Adam first, and then breathing into that body the breath of life. Man was a body even before he was alive. The body was the first part of man, and according to Paul, it will be the last part of man to be saved. The first Adam started with an earthly body and then the spirit was added. The second Adam was Jesus. He was already an eternal spirit, and he added to his spirit a body, in order to become a man. Adam and Jesus were put together just the opposite way, but with the same two parts. Adam was body to which spirit was added. Jesus was spirit to which body was added. Neither of them was a man until they were both body and spirit.
Man is never completely man until he is a combination of body and spirit. Since death divides the two and separates them, man can only be completely man again if the two are restored. That is why the resurrection of the body is such a vital part of God's plan, and basic to Christian theology. Paul says in verse 54, only when the perishable puts on the imperishable will death be swallowed up in victory. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed because the body is the last part of man to be saved. Only when your mortal body becomes immortal can you sing the final victory song.
The marriage supper of the Lamb that begins the eternal celebration is really a double wedding. It is the uniting of Christ with His bride, but it is also the uniting of body and spirit of all the redeemed. Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire and life reigns forever in that kingdom where man shall be with his Redeemer, united always, as body and spirit.
It is easy to understand why Christians are confused about the body. It is of no consequence what happens to the body. It can be buried, cremated, dropped in the sea, or preserved like a mummy, but it does not matter. Yet, we see that the body is a vital part of our salvation, and heaven will not be complete without it. How can the body be so insignificant and at the same time be so important? How can it be nothing and yet be everything? Paul answers this for us in verses 42-44. He has a series of 4 contrasting pictures of the body. Four terms are used to describe the body that is buried. It is perishable, dishonored, weak, and natural. It almost sounds like Paul is talking about taking out the garbage. But then in contrast he writes of the resurrection body that it is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. He has taken us from garbage-like to God-like. You do not pick one or the other, but recognize both as being true, and part of the whole paradoxical picture of the body.
If you focus on the body of flesh that dies, you have a very weak and perishable object. A mere germ, or a fall, or a piece of flying glass, or any number of things can bring it down to the grave. It is not only not fit for eternity, it cannot even survive very long in time. And epitaph in Medway, Mass. make clear how flimsy a grasp this body has on life.
Beneath this stone, a lump of clay
Lies uncle Peter Dannels,
Who too early in the month of May
Took off his winter flannels.
This body is so feeble and frail that death can rob it quickly of all power. Franklin Roosevelt was a powerful man as President of the United States, but as soon as life left his body he lost all power. He had a specific program written out for his funeral. It was to be small with only two representatives from each house of congress. But relatives and national leaders agreed to ignore his last wishes, and they did it up great. He was sown in weakness and could not do a thing about it. They honored him with an elaborate funeral, but all the pomp and glory could not hide the fact that the body is sown in dishonor.
Abraham Lincoln had one of the most expensive funerals ever. A special funeral train took his body from Washington to Chicago after lying in state. There it was transferred to the new rolling palace built by George Pulman. It was called the Pioneer, and was built too big for most train tracks. It was too high and too wide. Railroad officials had to send out crews ahead of this rolling palace to cut back platforms, widen bridges, and make numerous changes for the body of Lincoln to ride in luxury from Chicago to Springfield where he was buried.
Paul did not know about this, of course, when he said the body is sown in dishonor, but he knew of the Pyramids and the elaborate funerals of Rome. Paul is not saying the body is never honored in burial, but that the body is weak and helpless and without glory and power. Lincoln did not enjoy the luxury of his final ride. Paul is saying the dead earthly body cannot enjoy any of the luxuries of time, but the resurrection body will be able to enjoy the luxuries of heaven forever.
Spurgeon tells of the blind and lame men led to the stake in England. As they were being tied to the stake, the lame man said to the blind man, "Courage brother, this fire will cure us both." Paul is saying that is good theology, for the resurrection body will have nothing of the defeats of the body of time. Everything will be cured, and we will dwell in bodies that will never suffer again. It is raised in power and glory says Paul, and this has led to all kinds of speculation. Martin Luther, Spurgeon, and many others are convinced that all God's children will become supermen and superwomen. They will travel, not at the mere speed of light, but at the speed of thought, and be able to go anywhere in the universe instantly by an act of the will.
Hitler, by satanic inspiration tried to produce a super race, but he failed. Jesus will achieve that goal forever when all believers are united with their glorified bodies. Christians have conceived all kinds of fascinating things about this body. I am inclined to believe Sir Oliver Lodge when he said, "I will not believe that it is given to man to have thoughts, nobler or loftier than the real truth of things." In other words, if you can imagine it, reality is going to be even greater. I cannot conceive of anyone getting to heaven and saying this is nice, but not as great as what I thought it would be. The resurrected body will have unlimited enjoyment, and unabated employment in the eternal kingdom. We can never conceive in time all that this will mean. We are now creatures between the animal and the angel. Our body in this life keeps us closer to the animal, but our new bodies will let us rise to the level of the angel.
The spiritual body is the final home God has planned for those who love and trust His Son. It sounds like a paradox to call something a spiritual body, for spiritual means non-physical in our minds. But in the resurrection Jesus gains a total victory for all creation, both natural and spiritual. No longer are they contrary as now, where the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Materialism is often the enemy of the spiritual in time, but in eternity the two will be united as one. We will enjoy forever the beauty and pleasure of God's material creation, as well as the beauty and pleasure of the spiritual. When God created man of body and spirit, He said it was good. God will not let Satan and sin rob Him of that good. It will be restored forever in the new heaven and the new earth.
Jesus is perfect God and perfect man combined forever in His resurrected spiritual body. The whole point of His Incarnation, death, and resurrection was to make it possible for us to become like Him. We celebrate Christmas, Easter, and the cross because these represent the means by which Jesus made our total restoration possible. Because of these events and our faith in the Christ who experienced them, we can be with Him and like Him forever.
All that He has shall be mine;
All that He is I shall be,
Revel in His glory divine
I shall be ever as He.
Oh how glorious and resplendent
Fragile body, shalt thou be,
When endued with so much beauty
Full of health, and strong and free,
Full of vigor, full of pleasure
That shall last eternally.
The universe does not seem very practical right now. What good is a creation of billions of light years across, when men can see and explore so little of it? It is like buying Australia for your cat, or the Pacific for your goldfish. It seems impractical until you see the goal of God for man. Jonathan Edwards, the great American scholar, said he expected to use his spiritual body in going from one part of the universe to another beholding the glories of God. No matter how much a person travels in this life, they haven't seen anything yet. God has grandeur awaiting us that will make the grand canyon seem like child's play in comparison.
All that God has for us is beyond our imagination, but the way to get in on His eternal blessing is very much within the grasp of our imagination. We need to see Jesus on the cross dying for our sins. We need to see him buried and then rising again to conquer death. We need to see Him ascending to the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to intercede for us. We need to see Him as our Savior, and ask Him to dwell in our hearts. If we do this we can have full assurance of being in that final resurrection where our bodies and spirits will be reunited. It is in Jesus that we have the hope of the immortality of personality.