The Body of Christ: a Sign of the Body of Christ
It seems to me that a common practice in the modern church, is to overlook the significance of the Old Testament teaching on resurrection. In its most extreme form it treats the resurrection as a doctrine that is unveiled for the very first time in the first century and found exclusively in the New Testament – as if Jesus comes on the scene, dies, and rises from the dead and then Paul points to that event and says, “That is what we get to do,” as if the biological bodily resurrection of Jesus out of the grave sets the pattern that all believers will follow at the end.
But the resurrection is not a new doctrine found exclusively in the NT. It is an old doctrine found in the OT and one that Paul develops and expounds upon in the NT. In fact, Paul explicitly states that the resurrection was the hope of Israel.
Acts 24:10-15 10 When the governor [Felix] motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there [is about to] be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Paul had the same hope as his Jewish accusers and the source is the Law and the Prophets. What was that hope of his Jewish accusers? The resurrection was the hope of Israel.
Acts 26:6-8 [before Agrippa] 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
Paul’s hope was the same as that of his ancestors, the promise that the twelve tribes were hoping to see fulfilled – that God would raise the dead. The resurrection was the hope of Israel.
And as Paul said, he believed everything in accordance with the Law and the Prophets – the O.T. This resurrection hope was found in the OT. Let’s look at a few examples.
Dan 12:1-2 1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of the nation until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
Is 25:7-8 7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever.
Hosea 13:14 14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?
One more: Ezekiel is shown a vision – a valley of dry bones. He prophesies as God commanded and these dry bones receive tendons and flesh, breath enters them and these SLAIN come to life, stand up on their feet, a vast army.
Ez 37: 11-14 11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Here, Ezekiel refers to exile as death and he connects resurrection with a return to the land where there is life.
RESURRECTION = DEATH TO LIFE (GATHERED TO THE LAND IN THE PRESENCE OF YHWH)
Resurrection is the act of going from death to life. Life and death have more than one meaning or connotation and terms are best understood in light of their context. In several places throughout the Bible, death does not mean physical death.
- Writing to living, breathing individuals, Paul writes in Eph 2:1ff As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…
- Jesus, speaking to a living, breathing individual, says in Luke 9:60 Let the dead bury their own dead.
In many cases, such as those I just mentioned, death pertains to a state of separation from God, it has a spiritual, positional, and covenantal meaning. This concept is seen as early as the Garden of Eden when God told Adam that he would die on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit. He ate of the fruit, but he didn’t die physically that day. He was, however, banished from the garden, exiled, cut off, shut out of the presence of God.
For Israel, life was in the LAND where God’s Temple – and thus His presence – was. According to the Law, namely Deut 28, they would be blessed for obedience and cursed for disobedience. Part of the curses for disobedience included being destroyed at the hands of a foreign army and removed from the Land, exiled, shut out from the presence of Yahweh.
Since life was in the presence of God, in the Land. Exile under the wrath of God was seen as being cut off, put to death. The resurrection was the hope of Israel because Israel was put to death and needed to be raised.
Israel transgressed God’s Law. As a result, in 722 BC the northern Kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, put to death, exiled, shut out of the presence of God, taken away from the Land into captivity. In 586 BC the southern kingdom was destroyed by Babylon, put to death, exiled, shut out of the presence of God, taken away from the Land into captivity. Both Israel and Judah longed for the day when they would be gathered back into the land, back into the presence of God where there was life (taken from a state of separation in exile and gathered back into the Land where they would enjoy LIFE in the presence of God). Again, the resurrection was the hope of Israel.
This is the OT and historical backdrop against which the NT is set. In the NT, we find Jesus and the apostles building and expounding upon this understanding, expectation, and hope.
In John 11 we find that Jesus got word that Lazarus was sick. Due to Jesus’ delay, Lazarus died. Upon his arrival, Martha said to Jesus, “If you were here my brother would not have died.” Jesus said that Lazarus will rise again. Martha answered that she knew that Lazarus would rise again at the resurrection at the last day. She didn’t even have a copy of 1 Cor 15.
And how does Jesus reply to this?
John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
I AM the resurrection. I am the event to which you, Martha, are looking forward. The gathering of the elect from the exile of death, into the presence of Yahweh occurs in me. Israel going from death to life occurs in ME. Resurrection occurs in me because I am the resurrection!
How does this play out? It was a process. Part of that process was Jesus’ own resurrection, which was a visible sign that the resurrection of Israel was occurring.
A sign is a visible thing or event that signifies a greater, deeper, or spiritual reality. In this case, it was a physical or biological event that signified an otherwise unseen deeper spiritual reality. Why do I say that Jesus’ resurrection was a sign? In so many words, he told them.
Matt 12:38-40 38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
They wanted a sign. He told them that the only sign that they are going to get is the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so he would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Here, Jesus is referring to his own biological bodily resurrection, which was a literal and visible event that really happened, but it signified, it pointed to a deeper spiritual reality that God was fulfilling his promise to raise Israel from the dead.
Why is Jesus rising from the dead a sign that God was raising Israel from the dead? Because Jesus is Israel. I could show this a number of different ways, but my favorite is the Vine.
Psalm 80 8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it (the vine), and it took root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. 11 Its branches reached as far as the Sea, its shoots as far as the River. 12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? 13 Boars from the forest ravage it, and insects from the fields feed on it. 14 Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, 15 the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.
So we have God as a gardener, taking a vine out of Egypt and cleared the ground to plant it. He allows its walls to be broken down (destruction by foreigners for their violation of the covenant). Clearly, the vine is Israel, who God took out of Egypt and cleared the nations out of Canaan in order to plant in the Promised Land. Then in v14-15, the people say return to us…watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. So Israel is identified as the vine and as the son of God that he raised up for himself.
Then Jesus says in John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Jesus identifies himself as the true vine and says his father is the gardener, making him the son. According to Psalm 80, the gardener is God, the vine is Israel and the son of God. Jesus is clearly identifying himself as the true Israel. Jesus is Israel.
That’s why God raising Jesus from the dead was a sign that God was raising Israel from the dead; Jesus is Israel.
That’s why we can say that this resurrection of the body of Christ was a sign of the resurrection of the Body of Christ. What I mean by that is: the resurrection of the biological body of Christ was a sign of the [covenantal] resurrection of the corporate body of Christ.
Again, the biological resurrection of Jesus was a sign that Israel was being raised, because Jesus is Israel.
And remember: Jesus is the resurrection. He embodied the resurrection, which was the hope of Israel.
ON THE THIRD DAY
In Matt 12, the Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted a sign and they got none but the sign of Jonah. There, in speaking of his resurrection as the sign, Jesus compares himself to Jonah
and uses the phrase three days and three nights, but he uses a very interesting phrase elsewhere.
Three times in Matthew (16:21, 17:23, and 20:19) Jesus predicts his death and resurrection; in each of them he uses the phrase “on the third day he will be raised to life.”
That is a very significant phrase.
Most people in the modern traditional church are familiar with 1 Cor 15 as being THE definitive teaching on the resurrection of the dead. Interestingly, Paul begins this 1 Cor 15 discussion about the resurrection of the dead by reminding them of the following – he says:
1 Cor 15:1ff Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
There is that phrase- on the third day. Paul says I want to remind you of the gospel. This is what I received and preached to you: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Most people can readily locate that in the OT Scriptures, Isaiah 53 is a pretty clear and explicit place to find that. He continues: that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Where in the Scriptures (OT) does it teach that the Christ would be raised on the third day? I can’t find one place. I have searched high and low and I couldn’t find one.
But, in searching high and low, I did find a place where the Scriptures teach that Israel would be raised on the third day and remember: Jesus is Israel.
In Hosea 5 & 6 God foretold the time of judgment against Israel and Judah and subsequent restoration.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
like a great lion to Judah.
I will tear them to pieces and go away;
I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.
15 Then I will return to my lair
until they have borne their guilt
and seek my face—
in their misery
they will earnestly seek me.”
Here, Yahweh is speaking. He says through Hosea that due to Israel and Judah’s guilt he will tear them to pieces like a lion. He says he will carry them off with no one to rescue them. This language evokes the stipulations of covenantal wrath as delineated in Deut 28; one of the curses for disobedience to the Law would be that they would be destroyed by a foreign army and carried away into captivity. God would, like a lion tear them to pieces and carry them off. This is metaphor, imagery that would be manifest through their destruction at the hands of foreigners who would carry them off into captivity into exile. As I mentioned earlier, this was fulfilled in 722 BC by Assyria destroying the ten northern tribes and 586 BC when Babylon destroyed Judah. This rendered Israel and Judah dead. Thus, the hope for resurrection.
Now the next portion of the text as we move straight into chapter 6 is Israel’s reply, Israel’s response after being put to death-
Hosea 6:1-2 1 “Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Spoken in prolepsis, God would, as a lion, tear Israel to pieces and put Israel to death. But, once they return to the Lord, they will find healing and restoration. John the Baptizer was the messenger sent before the Lord to cause the people’s hearts to return to the Lord. Through his message, this process of returning to Yahweh was underway, indicating the time of restoration. As the prophecy says, Israel whom God had put to death would rise again, be revived, restored to the presence of God on the third day. This rising of Israel on the third day was Israel’s great hope, Israel’s resurrection, going from death to life.
This promised resurrection of Israel was embodied in the biological resurrection of Jesus; Jesus is Israel.
The biological body of Christ rising from the tomb on the third day was a sign that the [covenantal] resurrection of the corporate Body of Christ (true spiritual Israel) was occurring in the first century.
Recall Ezekiel’s prophecy about the resurrection. The resurrection would be at the gathering of the elect, when God brought them from the death of exile back to the Land where there would be life in his presence.
By the time of Christ in the first century, the Jews served their time – 70 years in captivity in Babylon and had already been released from exile and were in the physical land. However, we opened by looking at Paul’s statements in Acts where we saw that he was still looking forward to God fulfilling the great hope of resurrection.
So God had something more in store – something beyond a return to the physical land and something beyond the nationalistic earthly hope to throw off the yoke of the Gentiles and regain complete control of the Land.
I believe the answer lies in the transition from Old to New Covenant, in the Types and Shadows finding their fulfillment in spiritual realities in Christ.
In short: being in the Land (physically) under the OC was typological of being in Christ in the NC.
O Jerusalem, Jesus said, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. But, regarding the righteous remnant, the true Israel, individuals who would make up the corporate Body of Christ would indeed be gathered at the end of the OC age.
Matt 24:30-31 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earthwill mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
This gathering of the elect from the four winds would be in fulfillment of the OT promise to bring the exiles back into the Land that they may have life in Yahweh’s presence concurrent with resurrection – found not only in Ez 37, but numerous places elsewhere.
What we find in the NT is that in the New Covenant Age, Yahweh’s presence is henceforth no longer connected to the physical Temple made of wood and stone in a geographically defined Land. In the New Covenant, to come into the presence of God to dwell with him in fellowship and serve before him in his Temple where heaven and earth overlap – that occurs in Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the deity, the one who was called “Immanuel,” God with us.
To go from death to life – to go from a state of separation from God outside of his presence and covenantal blessings TO fellowship with him in covenant with him in his presence happens in Christ, as he said, I AM the resurrection and the LIFE.
So the promised gathering of the elect at the end of the age (ie resurrection) would be the gathering of the regenerated, born again individuals into the fully consummated corporate Body of Christ.
This is why Paul says in 2 Thess 2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.
The prophetic promise to bring Israel back into the land for life in the presence of Yahweh was fulfilled in the spiritual reality or antitype of bringing the elect remnant or true Israel into the Body of Christ.
Again: being in the Land (physically) under the OC was typological of being in Christ in the NC.
In the New Covenant, the identifying markers of the elect were being redefined spiritually in Christ:
- The elect are no longer defined by race but grace (no longer are children of Abraham defined in terms of ethnic lineage or biological genealogies, but by faith – Gal 3:26-29)
- Circumcision is no longer fleshly but spiritual (of the heart, Phil 3, Rom 2)
- Torah is superseded by the law of Christ (royal law of love on the heart not the written code on tablets of stone, James 2, 2 Cor3, Rom 7)
- The physical temple of wood and stone was destroyed and superseded by a temple made of living stones with a foundation of apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone, Eph 2, 1 Pet 2)
- So also the Land is no longer a plot of dirt in the Middle East with geographical borders, but a heavenly habitation and it is in Christ.
Again, the resurrection is connected to the gathering of the elect into the Land in God’s presence and this has its ultimate fulfillment with the spiritual gathering of God’s true Israel into the body of Christ, which was a process that had its complete fulfillment and consummation in AD 70 along with the other already/not yet doctrines.
Before we conclude, let me recap briefly, what we have seen thus far.
- The resurrection was the hope of Israel; it was foretold in their Scriptures (OT)
- Resurrection is the process of going from death to life and for Israel life was in the Land in God’s presence with his favor, death was exile having been cut off from God
- Israel’s resurrection would be concurrent with or manifested in a re-gathering into the land
- Jesus said that He is the resurrection and that his biological resurrection would be a sign that God was raising Israel from the dead
- Jesus’ biological resurrection on the third day was a sign that Israel was being raised as Hosea 5-6 foretold because Jesus is Israel; more specifically, he is the true Israel and those in Christ make up the corporate body of the true Israel.
- Thus, the biological resurrection of the body of Christ was a sign of the resurrection of the corporate body of Christ
- The gathering into the Land connected with resurrection found its fulfillment in the spiritual reality of being gathered into the Body of Christ, for the Promised Land was a type of the heavenly Kingdom in Christ.
- The resurrection was a first century reality, an ongoing process, which found its full consummation at the end of the OC age at the removal of the ministration of death.
IN CONCLUSION, In light of all that we have seen so far, I believe we can reasonably say that the resurrection of Jesus’ biological body was not to set the pattern for the kind of resurrection that believers would experience at the end of time, but a sign to point to God’s faithful fulfillment of his promised restoration of His people to dwell with Him in His presence and enjoy the life that is truly life.
This biological resurrection of Jesus, I believe, was not intended to teach Christians that they would one day rise again to dwell on earth with a so-called glorified body that could walk through walls and eat fish as Jesus’ resurrected biological body did.
I believe that Jesus was raised in the same biological body that he had during his earthly ministry and I think he made it a point to show that by displaying his scars. Some appeal to the fact that he appeared in a locked room and thus his post-resurrection body must be some glorified body (the argument is that he could move through walls). However, with his pre-resurrection biological body he walked on water, he escaped their clutches, and in John 6 was received into a boat and then and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going (a shore about 2 miles away).
Besides, Philip was transported 30 miles instantly in Acts 8. Did Phillip also have a “glorified body”?
Additionally, we read in 1 John 3:2 We shall see him as he is. How is he? If he is in a glorified body as many say he is, the same glorified body that came out of the tomb on the third day, then hadn’t they already seen him as he is???
No, I don’t believe that his resurrection was to set forth a supposed glorified body that would be the pattern for believers who would receive the same supposed glorified biological body.
Rather, the resurrection of Jesus was more than that.
- It was a fulfillment of prophecy
- and it was the visible sign showing that God was bringing Israel back to life
- taking them from the death of exile and bondage to freedom in His Presence
- gathering them into Christ, where YHWH would be their God and they would be his people to serve him with a clear conscience and no imputation of sin.
Israel was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit and the physical biological death burial and resurrection of Jesus was the outward visible sign of this spiritual reality.
Jesus, the embodiment of true Israel with his physical biological resurrection on the third day was a sign and symbol that the corporate Body of Christ (the true Israel) was being raised.
The resurrection of the Body of Christ was a sign of the resurrection of the Body of Christ.