We are definitely convinced that a misconception of the Second Coming of Christ has influenced many people to think incorrectly of "the resurrection of the dead." They have tied up the idea of Jesus coming the second time into the world in a bodily form with a General Resurrection Day, General Judgment Day, etc., with the end of time. Our only explanation for writing on this subject here is because of its bearing on the subject under discussion.
From what we have been able to discover there are those in almost every religious creed on earth who, from time to time, emphasize that the time is fast approaching when Jesus shall literally come down through the clouds in the natural form of a man, and some even go so far as to claim that he will set up an earthly kingdom and reign as king here over his people. John Bunyan, some three hundred or more years ago gave it as his opinion that Jesus was liable to come any day. Other individuals and groups have in our own day and time gone so far as to fix the year and month, and as evidence of their good faith in such a belief they have either sold or given away most of their property. They have met with sad disappointment, simply because they did not rightly understand what the Scriptures teach. The Scriptures have themselves declared that no man knoweth when the coming of the Son of man shall be, but this does not prevent men from speculating and prophesying about it.
As one of the most frequently quoted texts to support the idea of Jesus coming on earth again in a bodily form is that found in Hebrews 9:28, we shall use this as a foundation for our comment at this time. We think, the very fact that Paul chose the Jews to write this epistle to is highly significant. Perhaps it will not be amiss in us to review some of the things referred to in this epistle. Having worshipped under the law of Moses for centuries, with all of its sacrifices and offerings, it was not an easy matter for them to quickly turn to something else. Paul, therefore, in the very outset told them the same God who at sundry times and divers manners had spoken unto the fathers by the prophets hath in these last days spoken by his Son. In the third chapter he shows Christ as more worthy than Moses, and says: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house." Heb. 3:1-3. In the fifth chapter he discusses the priesthood and shows the difference between that which is of men and that which is of God. While we would like to quote considerable of the actual Scripture itself, we must give some consideration to our space. However, we will quote here from the eleventh to the seventeenth verses, inclusive, of the seventh chapter, as follows: "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident; for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." In the eighth chapter he shows that by the establishment of the eternal priesthood of Christ the Levitical priesthood of Aaron is abolished, and then goes on to speak of the two covenants. The Jews were well familiar with the first, which covenant they were unable to keep, but Paul told them that in this New Covenant which God had made with Israel, he would put his laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and that he would be unto them a God, "and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." Hebrews 8:10-13.
The climax is reached in the ninth chapter, wherein is shown that the rites and sacrifices made under the law were far inferior to the perfection of the blood and sacrifice of Christ. Here, again, we would like to quote extensively, but lack of space forbids. We hope our reader will turn to it and make a careful study of it, that he may see for himself what God's word says. We feel compelled to quote portions of what is found in this chapter. In the thirteenth and fourteenth verses we read: "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Coming over now to the twenty-second verse and through the twenty-sixth, we read: "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." All along he had been dwelling upon Moses versus Christ, the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant, and in the next chapter he speaks of the law having a shadow of good things to come versus "a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say his flesh," by the shedding of whose blood their sins and iniquities were remitted and put away forever or remembered no more. How wonderfully descriptive these things are of the fulfillment of the work which Jesus came to do, by and through his sufferings, death and resurrection. This was accomplished by his coming (the first time) under the law and meeting all of its requirements, paying the debt in full and setting the sinner free. It was in the end of that legal world or dispensation that Jesus came and put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. He was not talking about the end of this literal world, but the end of that world which the Jews had been living in for so many years. This is shown clearly by the language which he used. He says "he hath appeared," which is in the past tense. If it had had reference to the end of this natural world in which we are living today he would have to use a future tense. Let us not add to or take from the sacred words of truth.
Paul then goes on to say, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." When Jesus first appeared it was in the form of a man, in the likeness of sinful flesh, made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, and he had now suffered and died, and being dead his testament had been put into effect and, therefore, the judgment, or the time to make distribution of the benefits to his rightful heirs. What have "the many" for whom Jesus died a right to expect from his finished work of redemption? Surely, they must expect something better than the likeness of poor sinful man again. Yea, those who by faith look for him to appear the second time, expect him to appear in power and great glory, and it is without sin unto salvation when he thus appears. Wherefore says Paul, in writing to his Corinthian brethren, henceforth we are to know no man after the flesh. "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." II Cor. 5:16. If this was the only scripture in the Bible to oppose the idea of Jesus coming a second time in the flesh, it should be sufficient to dissuade us against it, but there are many others. Even Isaiah, prophesying of what would take place in the Gospel Day, hundreds of years before Christ came in the flesh, by faith saw him coming up from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, and he was glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength. How can it be possible to preach the gospel of the blessed Son of God, without holding Jesus up to believers as the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace? His might and power and glory need to be extolled to poor, weak and helpless sinners.
Yes, we are well aware of what was said to those who witnessed his ascension up into the clouds by the two men who stood by, clothed in white: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." We would like to emphasize here the necessity of some definite outward manifestation of his ascension. He had said to Mary, his earthly mother, who after his death had taken him to be the gardner until he spoke to her, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." John 20:17. As it was necessary that there should be some unmistakable evidence of his resurrection from the dead, so must there of necessity be absolute proof of his ascension into heaven, otherwise even his own disciples might have been left to believe that the Roman soldiers had taken him away. His followers must not be left in doubt, and in order that there should be eye witnesses to the fact that he actually ascended, "While they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight." We wish to speak here particularly of the manner in which he ascended, since it is said he would "come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Before the death and resurrection of Jesus, he was asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray, and he said, "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." Mat. 6:9-13. Let it be noted that this was said under the Jewish economy or legal dispensation, when they were looking for his kingdom to come, but even then we do not find an exact literal repetition of these identical words. Luke quotes a variation. Many religious denominations have incorporated the exact language in what they call "The Lord's Prayer" in their religious services, and if that is the proper manner in which God's people should pray unto him Old School Baptists have been wrong lo these many years. Since the death and resurrection of our Lord, and the establishment of his kingdom in earth with him as King of kings and Lord of lords, we do not pray, "Thy kingdom come," but we do pray, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven* * * For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." We are persuaded that every true prayer is after this manner, "Thy will be done," in the Spirit. The life is not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.
The manner in which Jesus went up was in the cloud, for "a cloud received him out of their sight," and it was declared that he shall "come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." It was not said that he would "come in like body" but in like manner - in a cloud. He is seen by faith, and so far as we are aware none but his disciples have ever seen him since he arose from the dead. Jesus himself said that "immediately after the tribulation" of the destruction of Legal Jerusalem, as recorded in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, would "appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Mat. 24:30. He himself also said, "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Mat. 24:34. Mark confirms this testimony (13:24-27). Luke says the same (21:27). These things were actually fulfilled before that generation passed, as Jesus said they would be. When the Gospel Day was fully ushered in, about the year A.D. 70, John witnessed their fulfillment and testified to it. Having lived to see them his authority cannot be questioned. Here is what he says: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so. Amen." Rev. 1:7. In the twelfth chapter of Revelation, John presents a type of the Gospel Church in the figure of a woman. He says, "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered." He then goes on to speak of the great victory won by Michael (Jesus) in his battle with the great red dragon, "that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan," and declares that he "heard a loud voice saying in heaven, NOW IS COME SALVATION, AND STRENGTH, AND THE KINGDOM OF OUR GOD, AND THE POWER OF HIS CHRIST: FOR THE ACCUSER OF OUR BRETHREN IS CAST DOWN, WHICH ACCUSED THEM BEFORE OUR GOD DAY AND NIGHT." There is no question whatever in our mind but that John was beholding King Jesus, by faith, as being the same one that was dead, but then being alive forevermore, having the keys of hell and of death, with all power, both in heaven and in earth, in his hands. And in our humble opinion wherever the Gospel Church is assembled in a heavenly place in Christ, and the Spirit is poured out upon her, she hears the substance of what John proclaimed. At the risk of repeating some things already said, in this Gospel Day God is performing his work of regenerating and quickening his people who are dead in trespasses and in sins; Jesus is appearing the second time without sin unto salvation to them; the quick and the dead are being judged; the sheep are being separated from the goats and he is assigning to each their portion: those on his right hand enter into life everlasting, and those on his left hand enter into eternal judgment.
While here in the flesh, Jesus often turned to natural things for illustrations of his points, and we will do likewise. At Christmas time, for the benefit of young children, a great mythological narrative is woven about a physical man, dressed in red coat, white whiskers, etc., with a sled drawn by reindeer prancing on the roof of the house, is told them. For awhile they are enraptured with intense glee and joy, but by and by as they develop and become more mature they have an awakening. Some are ready to say they discover that it was all a myth and they learn that there was nothing to it. But what are the real facts? When they grow up into manhood and womanhood they realize that the physical creature which their little eyes looked upon was but the embodiment of a spirit, the wonder of which fills the earth to a far greater extent than their little minds ever dreamed of or were capable of comprehending. Paul said, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Cor. 13:11. There is such a thing as a growth in grace and in the knowledge of the things of God, but it would appear that there are still those who believe and cling to what they believed while in their unregenerate state. We wish that it might be the will of our God to awaken them, that they might be enabled to behold the glory of God as it appears in the face or person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as a once crucified but now risen Savior, with power over all worlds, principalities and powers, be they visible or invisible.
R. Lester Dodson
The Resurrection of the Dead
Pages 35 - 42