Dear Brother Beebe: - Some months since, I received a letter from brother F.J. Beal, dated in Missouri, requesting my views through the Signs on the text, Phil. 3:21. I think I have at some former time expressed my views on this text, but out of respect to brother Beal and his kind and interesting letter, I will, with your approbation, give such views as may be presented to my mind on the passage.
The text is this: "Who will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." The preceding verse reads thus: "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence, also, we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ," &c.
I will offer a few remarks on the word "conversation." According to the modern use of this term, it signifies a familiar talking with others, and therefore is understood by many to relate to our talk or speech. But at the time of the translation it evidently had a more extended import. The original word rendered "conversation" by the translators, signifies citizenship, and relates to that general intercourse as citizens of the same city or government, which the saints should have with each other, not as citizens of this world, but of heaven. "From whence, also, we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." The idea of this looking for the Saviour clearly implies an expectation and an authorized expectation of His coming in a sense in which He had not come, and was not then present with His Apostles and Church. This, therefore, in connection with other texts of Scripture which it is not now necessary to refer to, confirms me in the belief that there is to be a second personal appearing of Christ Jesus to the saints on this earth. And it is at this appearing of our Lord in the air with the trump of God, that I understand the change spoken of in our text, is to take place, according to First Corinthians 15:51-53 & I Thes.4: 17.
In order to properly appreciate the change which these "vile," or earthly bodies of the saints are to experience, it will be necessary to notice the "glorious body" of the Lord Jesus, to which they are to be like. The whole testimony of the New Testament confirms the fact that Christ arose from the dead in the same body in which He died, and with it unchanged in its flesh and bone nature. Christ said to His disciples, "Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" Luke 24:39. And He ate before them (see verses 42,43). Peter says they did eat and drink with Him Acts 10:41.
In Christ's thus rising from the dead in the same body in which He entered the grave, and with His wounds on Him, we have the most complete testimony which could be given, not only that He had exhausted the curse that was due for the transgressions of His people, and which justice rigidly inflicted on Him as their life and head, and therefore their embodiment, so that His soul was not left in hell; but also, that in dying, He had so entirely destroyed the power of death, and obtained the victory over it, that no corruption could pass upon Him. Now if Christ died for, or as representing His people, then He must have arisen in the same relation to them, and therefore in His destroying the power of death, it was that power over their bodies that was destroyed, just as much in His taking the curse out of the way so that His soul was not left in hell, was a delivering them from the curse. If the dominion of sin over the bodies of Christ's people was not to be broken, as well as the redemption of their souls from destruction by His death, I cannot conceive how His body could have been raised, seeing He was made sin for us, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree; for it was the power of our sins which sunk Him into the grave. If that power had not been broken by His death, it must still have held Him there. And as it was our sins which He bore in His own body, if the power of them was broken by His death, then they can no more hold our bodies in the grave than they could hold His body there. Hence Paul's declaration, "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen I Cor. 15:13. And well might he ask, "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" verse 12.
But the enquiry arises whether the glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ, like unto which the saints' bodies are to be changed, is that body still remaining in its flesh and bone nature, receiving nourishment from food and drink, or whether it was changed at His ascension from a material to a spiritual body? There is no direct declaration that I know of in the Scriptures that His body was thus changed. But it appears to me evident from the general tenor of the New Testament, that His body was changed. If it remains a material body, then the bodies of the saints to be like His glorious body must, in their resurrection, remain material bodies, and what change they will experience to be fashioned like His, I am not prepared to say. But we are assured that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;" and that the body though sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body I Cor. 15:44 & 50. Indeed, Christ's transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-5) is, as I understand it, a representation given beforehand of the change which should take place in His body when He should enter into His glory.
But it is not necessary that we should dwell upon this point now. For whether we admit that Christ's body was changed from a natural to a spiritual body or not, all who admit the truth of the Scripture testimony, must admit that Christ arose from the dead and ascended in the same body in which He was crucified. And as our text assures us that the bodies of the saints shall be fashioned like unto His glorious body, it is self-evident that they must be raised from the dead in order to be thus fashioned. Indeed, I have briefly, though I think clearly showed, that the resurrection of Christ and of the saints, go together. If He has arisen then must their bodies be raised; if they are not to be raised, then He has not arisen. The questions were asked in Paul's day: "How are the dead raised? And with what body do they come?" I Cor. 15:35. Paul goes on to answer these questions in the following verses to the 46th. As the same questions are asked in our day, I will notice one or two other considerations to show that Paul's use of the pronoun it in his description of the sowing and raising of the body, is definite and specific. Some say there is a resurrection, but deny that the material body which turns to dust, is raised. Others say that in the resurrection of the body all that ever constituted parts of the body must be raised with it; if a person has lost an arm or leg in some foreign country, or his limb is bitten off by a shark in the ocean, and he dies and is buried in this country, in his resurrection that lost limb will be reunited with his body. By the same rule they may, and some I think do say that all the particles of matter that ever belonged to the body must be raised with it, and therefore that those particles, wherever they have been extorted or dropped, must be gathered to the body. But Paul's it, in my estimation, justifies neither one nor the other of these ideas. We will take Christ, the first-fruits, as an illustration of what is raised. It was the same Jesus, in person, who was born in Bethlehem, and in that identical body which was nailed to the cross, and died on it, that was raised up, with the wounds on it, as was showed to Thomas John 20:27. And it was Jesus in that very body in which He had showed Himself alive unto His disciples, that was parted from them and taken up into heaven. See Luke 24:50,5 1 & Acts 1:1-11. Again, those that are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord, are to be changed. And the words seem clearly to convey the idea that just as they existed at the moment of their Lord's coming, their bodies will be changed from corruptible to incorruptible, and caught up, the identical persons, who, having been alive, and being changed in a moment to meet the Lord in the air. See I Cor.15:51-54 & I Thes.4:15-17. These cases thus illustrate what Paul means by his its, when he says, "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" I Cor. 15:44; namely, that it is the same identical body that is sown, which is raised, though changed from a natural to a spiritual body.
This is a mystery, and a great mystery; but that by no means justifies our rejecting or caviling at the declarations of God's word. We ought to remember that the power put forth in accomplishing this glorious work of the resurrection of the saints is as incomprehensible as is the work. It is according to that working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself. It is the working of God in His infinite wisdom and almighty power. When we see what God by His working has subdued unto Himself, that He subdued the chaos so as to form the heavens and the earth in their beauty and order; subdued darkness in saying, Let there be light, &c., and made Satan and sin itself in their evil workings to result in the glory of God and in the redemption and salvation of His people; surely, we cannot doubt His being able to subdue death and the grave, so as to make them give up their dead and to make them yield them back, purified from all that is earthly and sensual about them.
I doubt, my brother, if any who dispute the doctrine of the resurrection should read this, whether they will be convinced of its truth. The Scriptures are so plain and pointed on the subject, it is useless for us to expect them to believe what we say, if they can reject what is there written. Still it is our duty to follow the pattern of the apostles, in giving witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and consequently of His saints. For I cannot conceive how we can be co-heirs or joint-heirs with Christ, seeing that in His body He has entered in as heir of all things, if in our bodies also we are not made to participate in the inheritance, nor how we can be glorified together, that is, with Him, seeing that He has been glorified in His risen body, if our bodies are to remain subject to corruption. But I will here leave the subject. Yours in the hope of a glorious resurrection.
Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
Jan. 10, 1859.
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol. 27(1859)
Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott