Table of Contents
Part II: Embodiment and Redemption
Of course it is! As one whose professional life was spent as
Head of a research laboratory in Human Phisiology, I know that
one can make little or no progress without it only we call
it hypothesizing. And it has proved highly successful in the
Why should not
the Christian excercise freedom of mind in the same way
only this time with a mind renewed and a mind informed and channelled
by revelation and disciplined in the use of logic? Why
being is not a human being without a human body. Unless
the body is constitutionally part and parcel of man's being,
the emphasis in the New Testament upon the resurrection of the
body is quite unaccountable.
If we can be persons without
a body, there seems to be no reason why Paul should have argued
that unless the body is raised we are of all men most miserable:
nor why he should have said our final expectation is 'the redemption
of the body.' The proof of the Lord's resurrection was
not his re-appearance as a ghost but as a person with a body
of flesh and bones. Resurrection is not merely spiritual survival
but bodily survival as well.
I don't, however,
wish this chapter to be an anticlimax in the form of a catalogue
of passages of Scripture proving the point. This has been done
many times by detailed
exegesis of the wonderful
assurances of the reality of the next world such as we
find in 1 Corinthians 15:3538; Philippians 3:20, 21; and
the final chapters of Revelation. I'm not attempting to prove
the resurrection of the body: I'm starting with it as a basic
What I want to do is to exercise
some imaginative freedom and reflect upon four aspects of the
potentials of such a bodily existence as the Lord Jesus Christ
experienced and still experiences as a Man in heaven, for here
is our pattern according to the promise of the Scriptures.
These four aspects may be summarized
(a) What shall we be?
(b) What shall we do?
(c) What shall we know?
(d) How shall we be recognized?
What will it
be like to be entirely free forever free to be what we
would like to be, to do what we would like to do, to know what
we would like to know, to go where we would like to go, and to
meet whoever we would like to meet.
How will we feel when we suddenly
realize we are incorruptible and immortal at last, without fear
or pride? What will it be like when we are free of gravity and
of the limitations of space and time: free of need, free of hunger,
pain, delay or impatience, hatred or malice, boredom or unfulfilled
aspiration or unwanted partings of all and any of the sorrows
and disappointments that characterize this life and turn a beautiful
earth into such a blessed vale of tears.
Name anything, absolutely
anything that is a source of human anxiety or grief or shame,
and that will be absent from our world. What freedom this
will bring, and with what safety it will be enjoyed! The real
reason we cannot be allowed even the good things we long for,
including fruitfulness in his service, is that all too frequently
it would not be safe for us. We would all too soon be plagued
pride if our labours
were to be as blessed as we would wish. Such is the paradox of
Christian life because of that most troublesome of all sins
Let us, then,
take a look at these four aspects of existence which will almost
certainly apply to a state of freedom that is nevertheless not
a state of disembodiment but of being embodied "gloriously"
as promised in Philippians 3:21.
(a) WHAT SHALL
We have the
Lord's promise that when He returns He will not only receive
us unto Himself (John 14:3) but that when we see Him we shall
be like Him (l John 3:1). This is what we are to BE.
The change will be instantaneous,
"in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians
5:51,52). We shall be raised incorruptible and immortal for that
meeting (1 Corinthians 5:52, 53). This diseased and decaying
body will be transformed "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" (Philippians
And if you have questions about
the 'how,' I suggest you read 1 Corinthians 15:3550. The
words scarcely need comment: they are clear and unequivocal.
What will rise from the dust is to be an outgrowth of what has
been sown. To quote Thomas Boston again, "There is a vileness
in the body which, as to the saints, will never be removed, until
it be melted down in the grave, and cast into a new form at the
resurrection to come forth a spiritual body."
Nor will there be any loss of identity,
a fact which gave Job great assurance and led him to exclaim:
"Though after worms have destroyed my skin, they will then
also destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom
I shall see for myself and my own eyes shall behold, and
else's" (Job 19:26,
27). We shall be ourselves and all experience will be firsthand.
God will give to each of us
a body as it shall please Him (1 Corinthians 15:38), having
wrought us in the first place 'for this very thing' (2 Corinthians
5:5). It is far better that He should choose for us the particular
form of embodiment that will make us whole again. As we shall
see in dealing with (d), we shall really not be in a position
to choose for ourselves. What He chooses for us will be a body
that is perfectly appropriate to house the spirit which He has
perfected for it in order to re-constitute us as the kind of
person we have always longed to be both outwardly and inwardly.
Above all, we shall be human
beings, not angels. The point is an important one. To Adam
was committed the government and cultivation of the resources
of the earth. He and his descendants were to multiply and fill
it in order to "occupy" it in the proper sense. When
the Lord Jesus said, "Occupy till I come" (Luke 19:13),
He implied two things: first, that He is coming again; and second,
that He is coming again to "occupy" the earth as the
Second Adam with all that this implies.
If God committed to man the management
of his created world, He had of necessity to provide him with
the means. He had to provide him with a mind that would
enable him to understand His will. And He had to provide him
with a suitable brain in order that his mind could
exercise its will upon the physical world. It would be foolish
to suppose that, if there is to be a new heavens and a new earth,
we would not continue to be provided with the same two pre-requisites.
We do not yet know how mind or
will can act upon the body and use it as an extension of itself
as the hand, for example, puts our wishes into practice.
Just how a spiritual force like my will can move a material object
like my hand but cannot move the hands of the clock on the wall
except indirectly, is a mystery. But certainly we have the will
and the skill increasingly to manage the physical world if we
were to set our hearts
to do so.
But angels have no such direct
powers to influence physical objects except by a temporary embodiment.
The angel that "rolled away the stone" had to move
a physical mass of perhaps 1500 to 2000 pounds. Even the little
stone placed in the track and sealed in position by mud or clay
so as to show whether it had been tampered with, would prevent
its being rolled back unless it also were removed. No doubt the
angel did this as a requisite first step. But it seems that the
angel must have been temporarily embodied with the same kind
of embodiment involved when the two angels took Lot and his wife
"by the hand" and hurried them out of the doomed city
of Sodom (Genesis 9:16).
Yet angels are not men,
because by definition a man is only man in a truly human body,
and though angels may be temporarily embodied it is certainly
not their customary constitution. Moreover, unlike man, they
seem quite able to be fully conscious as pure spirits without
When the Lord Jesus became Man,
He did so by becoming flesh, of human seed, of the seed
of the woman and of the seed of David and of the seed of Abraham.
He became partaker of flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14), though
without our defect. He did not take upon Himself the nature of
angels (Hebrews 2:16), because He came specifically to act upon
our world and to do it as we do it, not as an angel might do
it. He lived among us, healing the sick, feeding the hungry,
raising the dead, and sharing our physical life to the full.
Moreover, He came to die, which God as pure spirit cannot do.
Thus man by his very nature can
interact with the physical world. And because his spirit and
mind can comprehend the will of God, he can fulfil the will of
God within this physical framework as its governor. He is a link
across two realities, the reality of the physical world and the
reality of the spiritual world. This is what he is a link
and a medium; and in the new heavens and the new earth since
our basic constitution of spirit and body is to be retained,
we shall continue
to be a link and a medium.
(b) WHAT SHALL WE DO?
We are not told
very much about the nature of the new heaven and the new earth
except that they shall remain and therefore will not wear
out or run down. They are to be new and unshakeable (Hebrews
2:27) which may perhaps signify that they will be stable and
not subject to catastrophic disturbances such as astronomy and
geology hold the present universe to have been subject to in
The present world seems clearly
to have been designed as a habitation for man as he is now constituted.
Indeed, this is not only true of the earth but probably even
of the heavens also, i.e., of the whole universe. This has in
recent years been the considered opinion of a number of prominent
It would seem reasonable to conclude
that if we are to undergo a transformation of a certain kind
and to be placed in a new universe, that universe will
accordingly be a transformation of this present one. It will
therefore be new in this sense: not merely a replacement
in the same form but a re-formed replacement in which we shall
live and move and have our being. In other words, we shall belong
in the whole of it as we cannot be in the present one,
for lack of time if nothing else! There will then be the same
kind of correspondence between our constitution and its constitution
as there is at the present time, except that we shall not be
bound by those physical limitations which currently bind us.
While this present heaven and earth
will pass away (Matthew 4:35), the new one will not (Isaiah 6:22),
and neither shall we. Thus the words, "Of the increase
of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Isaiah 9:7),
may take on an entirely new meaning, the key word being increase.
A few years ago such a prospect might have seemed utterly
absurd, but not any more only we shall not need space ships
space suits, and our
movements may even exceed the speed of light!
I do not for one moment anticipate
that our "time" will be spent playing a harp, much
as I would like to be able to play any instrument well!
But I believe such an achievement would be easily within our
reach just by willing to do it. So likewise, I'm confident we
shall be able to roam the earth, or the sky, and indeed the whole
universe, at will. Yet I suspect it will not be an idle roaming.
There will be creative responsibilities,
'rulerships' as it were, over whatever will correspond to
the "many things" of Matthew 25:21. Whatever the reality
may prove to be, I am sure it will be easily recognizable as
a fulfillment of our capabilities when the time comes. And my
prediction is that the sense of reward we get in this world
for an achievement well done is a harbinger of a sense of far
greater achievement for things yet to be accomplished in that
world (John 14:12). Man was not designed for idleness.
One final point. Such 'doings'
assume the continuance of our embodied humanity with its potential
for creative activity. But this seems to assume also that the
Lord will retain his: and this I believe He will. The
mark of his humanity was (and is) his willing subservience
to his Father (John 6:38), even as the mark of his deity
is his rightly claimed equality with his Father (John
10:30). If this is a reasonable assumption, then perhaps we have
assurance of the permanence of his humanity from the fact that
when He shall have had all things (ta panta, in
the Greek, i.e., "the universe") subdued under his
feet, He in turn will also Himself be subject unto Him (the Father)
that put the universe under Him, that God may be all in all (1
Corinthians 5:28). He will therefore, it seems, never cease to
retain his two natures, one of which we now also share. Neither
He, nor we, will ever be in a disembodied state again, and this
implies we shall never be without something to do! The
fact that we are to be embodied can only mean that the universe
will be 'substantial' and that we shall be able to act upon it.
(c) WHAT SHALL WE KNOW?
I suggest we shall know anything we need or desire
to know and our knowledge will be without error. Since it
seems impossible to contemplate the failure of memory, whatever
we have once learned in that new universe we shall never forget.
But would not this imply an interim
ignorance, and is not ignorance a kind of sin? From the New Testament,
we know that the answer to this must be in the negative.
The Lord Jesus as Man did not
know everything automatically and from the moment He was born.
He did know everything He needed to know at each stage of his
life, and all that He knew He knew perfectly. Of some things
He seems clearly to have been ignorant. This was part of his
self-abasement in assuming human nature, which in order to be
truly human required that He lay aside or sublimate his divine
omniscience sometimes. Thus while his occasional ignorance was
real enough (as when He could not tell his disciples the time
of his returning), it was not an ignorance due to sin.
On a number of occasions we see
this laying aside of omniscience. For instance, we learn of his
surprise at the fig tree which lacked the fruit He had
expected to find on it, and of his great delight in the man who,
though not a Jew, had a wonderful faith in his power to heal.
On another occasion, He asked his beloved and bereaved friends,
Martha and Mary, to show Him where Lazarus had been buried. Was
this merely an accommodation to his friends in which He concealed
his knowledge or was it a real case of limitation? It seems to
me that He would not pretend under any circumstances, and therefore
that He really did not know.
I believe in our perfected state
in that new universe we shall still have much to learn. We shall
know anything we need to know and learn everything we desire
to learn. We shall never suffer from needless or undesired ignorance.
Things we want to know, whether necessary or not, we shall
know by some process
perhaps akin to intuition, or merely by asking.
And as to asking questions. . .
. With a direct line of communication involving neither
delay nor hindrance of any kind, perhaps what computers are
beginning to make possible for us in time, that which
will constitute brain in our new bodies will do for us
in eternity when channelled into the right data-bank.
That heavenly resource could well be nothing less than the mind
(d) HOW SHALL WE BE RECOGNIZED?
It would seem a simple matter to house the resurrected
spirit in a recognizable body so that we could all know one another
as we have known one another in this world. The size and shape
and mannerisms of our bodies become part of our identity to those
around us. And our facial features and expression clinch the
matter. So we have plenty of clues by which to recognize one
But then a problem arises. What
if it has been twenty-five years since we last saw some particular
friend in this world? Faces change, and so do figures! How, then,
shall we recognize each other if in the interval we have grown
from infancy to maturity, or even from middle age to old age?
In short, what stage of our life will our resurrection bodies
And even more problematically,
let us suppose that a child is a year old when his mother dies.
He grows up to be a well-known Christian leader and in due time,
well on in years, he goes home to be with the Lord. How, now,
will mother recognize son, or son mother? Adequate photographs
might be left in his possession for him to recognize his mother,
but photographs of the son could not be left in the mother's
possession to serve the same purpose. Such blood relationships
will surely not matter in heaven, but will we need introductions
to almost every person we meet, including old friends and even
our closest relatives?
And what of those with whom we may have corresponded
for many years and yet have never seen, or may even have spoken
to by telephone but still never met face-to-face? How shall we
recognize them: or they us? Certainly not by the wearing of name-tags!
It was easy for the disciples to
recognize the Lord, once their minds had accepted the reality
of the resurrection, because of the marks on his body which He
deliberately made use of to serve that very purpose. But it seems
highly unlikely that any of the redeemed will come before Him
with any such marks, with a limp or a missing arm or anything
marring the perfection of his new body.
Thus we cannot allow ourselves
the conceit of supposing that we shall automatically have the
kind of magnificent body or beautiful body that would be appropriate
in the prime of life, for such a body would not be appropriate
in many cases as a means of identification. Some other principle
of "identity" must be in view.
There is an identity which is non-photographic.
Artists recognize this and are often guided by it even though
to the uninitiated it looks like a distortion. Michelangelo,
with his extraordinary skill as a sculptor, often portrayed his
subjects in such a way as to make them both recognizable and
unrecognizable: recognizable to those who already knew them with
a measure of intimacy but unrecognizable to those who didn't.
They were recognizable in that he had captured the soul of his
subject, which would be familiar to those who knew: but unrecognizable
to those who didn't know the soul of the subject because he disregarded
to a great extent external appearance, leaving his portrait without
adequate visual correspondence.
For instance, he portrayed Lorenzo the Magnificent who was his great benefactor,
as a soul of great beauty (which he was in the eyes of many
people) rather than as a somewhat mean-looking character such as we see
on coins struck with his image during his lifetime. The coins showed what
he looked like. Michelangelo showed what he was. (See
Volume 7 of the Doorway Papers Series, Prt.
II, Chp. 2)
Again, if one examines his masterpiece, The Pieta,
in which he portrayed the crucified Lord as it were "draped
in death" across Mary's knees, one will notice that the
face of Mary is if anything younger than that of the Lord. His
purpose was undoubtedly to present Mary to the viewer as a soul
of great beauty, apart from the fact that her attitude is one
of sad resignation. But considering that she must have been by
this time at least 50 years of age, * and considering that the
Middle East is not "kind" to the faces of women as
a rule, a photographic image might well fail to reveal the heart
of Mary behind that aging face. Michelangelo was not trying to
be merely kind: he wished to be truthful, and unconsciously we
read the truth.
We may well find that in our new
bodies we shall all have a truer and deeper identity than mere
photographic likeness. Perhaps the identity will not be established
at all by shape or configuration. The shape or configuration
that we shall each have may be precisely the shape or configuration
which will be a creation of the viewer in each case and not of
the one viewed. We shall see in our friend what will seem
to us ideal: and yet another friend will see in that same person
something quite different though equally satisfying his or her
ideal. We shall not know we are looking at something different,
we two viewers. And it will seem quite possible that when we
look at ourselves, if there is ever such a thing as a heavenly
mirror, we shall see what is ideal to us and it may be very different
from what our viewers are seeing.
Could it not be that each of us
will be recognized not by the normal visual impact of ordinary
viewing but by the miracle of a transformation which will convert
the visual signal in the mind of the viewer into an appropriate
form that is entirely congruous with the personal nature of that
individual as the viewer once knew him or her in this world?
* By the time of the crucifixion, the Lord
was approximately 33 years of age, and it seems rather unlikely
that Mary would have been less than 17 years of age when He was
woman would appear as
a woman to those who knew her as such, as a girl to others who
had known her at an earlier stage, and conceivably even as a
child to the mother who had died when that child was only a few
The four Gospels present us with apparently
different and intentionally contradictory accounts, though the
central figure is clearly one and the same Person throughout.
We have to assume therefore that the impression He generated
was different to the minds of different viewers. Matthew saw
Him as the Promised King, with all the earmarks of a kingly presence.
Mark saw Him as a servant par excellence, which is quite
another thing. Luke saw Him as a Man among men, as "the
Son of Man" indeed. John saw Him not as Man with the attributes
of God but as God with the attributes of Man. He was all these
things. He communicated his presence and his identity differently
to different men, not because He was changeable in any way but
because those whom God chose as writers of the inspired record
each perceived Him according to their own personality and background.
I have no doubt that people from countries all around, regardless
of their skin colour or characteristic appearance, saw the Lord
as a true representative of mankind in their own terms. We
have a slight intimation of this possibility in the way very
small children will readily play with children of other races
without any apparent awareness of difference in skin colour or
features. It is possible therefore to be quite unaware of these
things. Perhaps it is a mistake for us to portray the Lord "as
one of us" with fair hair and blue eyes since people from
other races are rightly offended by this form of ethnocentricity.
The Lord was strictly the Son of Man, somehow escaping these
formal limitations. I wonder what our illustrated Bibles and
Christmas cards are doing, deeply stamped as they are with our
image of what is becoming in man.
I believe that when we see the
Lord, we, too, will each see Him differently. To the white man,
He will be our ideal;
and so will He be to
the black man his ideal; and to the Chinaman, and to the Eskimo,
and indeed to "every man."
Each of us has his or her own ideal
of what is beautiful and what is formal perfection. He will meet
all our ideals individually not because He will be both
black and white but because our resurrected minds will be so
structured as to filter our vision appropriately.
And thus we shall somehow recognize
beloved friends in the Lord no matter how changed in later life
they or we may have been. Nor shall we need any introductions
to those whom we never actually met Adam, Job, David, Paul,
Augustine, Luther, Whitefield. . . . We shall recognize
by "essence" not by shape.
As He sees us in a perfect
way that truly reveals the character of our redeemed spirit,
so because we shall be like Him we shall see Him as He
is; beautiful to behold, and surrounded by truly beautiful people,
his redeemed children.
C. S. Lewis
in a sermon titled "The Weight of Glory," made
a perceptive observation which is particularly apropos
of what we have been saying. He suggested that the most uninteresting
and commonplace person one has ever spoken to may one day be
such a creature that if one met him today one would be tempted
to worship him. On the other hand, he may one day be such a creature,
so full of horror and corruption, as to be conceivable only in
As he put it, "You have never
talked to a mere mortal": by which I think he meant
no man is just what we see before us, but rather what he may
be potentially for good or ill. The creatures with whom
we joke, snub, exploit, or marry are potentially "immortal
horrors or everlasting splendours." (135)
It is a sobering thought: truly
awful or truly wonderful. And it depends as much on the potential
of the human body as it does on the potential of the human spirit.
The concept of a chance evolutionary process producing a
135. C. S. Lewis, In one essay entitled "The Weight of
Glory" in "They Asked for a Paper" New York, Macmillan,
1949, p. 210
creature with such a
potential for inexpressible beauty or unbelievable ugliness seems
to me utterly absurd. We cannot account by such a means for either
alternative the horror of the effect of sin, or the glory
of the effect of redemption. In this beauty or horror the body
plays an essential role. That heaven or hell should be peopled
with beautiful or horrible ghosts is really inconceivable,
and the Bible certainly does not suggest such a thing. We are
to be rewarded or judged "in the flesh." Our bodies
are to share the glory or the shame.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next