Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 22, Questions 57 & 58:
"Q. 57. What comfort doth the "resurrection of the body" afford thee?
A. That not only my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head; but also, that this my body, being raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul, and made like unto the glorious body of Christ.
Q. 58. What comfort takest thou from the article of "life everlasting?"
A. That since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life, I shall inherit perfect salvation which 'eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man' to conceive, and that, to praise God therein for ever."
The instruction of this Lord's Day is based on many
scriptural passages. I point you to three:
II Corinthians 5:1: "For we know that if our
earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building
of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
John 5:28 and 29: "Marvel not at this: for the
hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall
hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good,
unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto
the resurrection of damnation."
John 17:3: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent."
The last two articles of the Apostle's Creed, beloved, deal with the subject that is very dear to the hearts of every member of the Church. It's the truth of the resurrection from the dead and of life everlasting. This particular confession deals with the matter that we know, admittedly, very little about. Though Scripture gives references to the beauty and glory of the heavenly, it does so, of course, in earthly terms. We get from Scripture a little glance, into the beauty of heaven and the glory of everlasting life. But that's all we see at present. The truth, of course, of resurrection and everlasting life is of particular comfort to the child of God who faces those times to sorrow when separated from dear ones by death. When death comes the ungodly may curse, swear, and may ask their question, "Why me?". The child of God, by faith, though he has his times of concern and doubt, too, says, "Death is for God's people entrance into everlasting glory and life." Death, therefore, is not the end for the child of God; and though Scripture calls it, "the last enemy", it becomes for him the doorway to heavenly glory and life.
That's our confession: "I believe the resurrection of the body. I believe life everlasting." And again, the Heidelberg Catechism very rightly reminds us that this is a very personal matter. I am confessing this morning not just that there is resurrection, but that my body shall be raised from the dead. I confess not only that there will be eternal glory, but that I shall inherit that eternal glory in heavenly places. These truths are, of course, directly related with that which we had earlier confessed.
The Apostle's Creed rightly emphasizes the heart of the Gospel when it speaks of the Cross. The Creed presents Christ in His incarnation, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into glory. It is following out of that, the Apostle's Creed rightly summarizes the work of the Spirit of Christ Who gathers the Church and establishes a communion of saints. Though they still sin, they are saints for Jesus sake! Through the Holy Spirit He assures them of the forgiveness of their sins. And now this: because of the finished work of the Lamb, therefore, the child of God says: "I know my body also shall arise from the dead. I know that I shall enter into life everlasting." It is a personal, real confession that has been of immeasurable comfort to the child of God--and particularly in times of sorrow.
So I would call your attention to:
Notice first of all: The Intermediate State,
that is, the state of an individual after death and before the
resurrection of the body. In the second place notice: The Resurrection
Itself: the resurrection of this body. And finally, consider:
The Comfort of Such Knowledge
for us who live here on this earth.
The Intermediate State. What do we believe about that? I might point out to you that there are different views about this.
Though it's hardly a religious view, I suppose one might point to the view of the unbeliever who says that this life is all that there is. It's the ultimate conclusion of the theory of evolution. We live here for a time and we die. Our bodies return to the dust and become assimilated into other bodies. The process continues through the ages. The unbeliever says, "Let's eat and drink and be merry. Let's have a good time on this earth, for when we die that's the end." In fact the theory goes, "Let's have a good time while we're young. When we get old, perhaps we become sick, weak, and frail. We are filled with pain. So let's have fun while we can.. It's the old view of the Epicureans, the old Greek philosophers who insisted that this life is all there is. We might as well enjoy it when we have the opportunity.
Sadly, that's one of the errors that we have to fight in our own flesh, too. Children and young people often emphasize their desire for a good time. There is nothing wrong with a "good time," of course, provided it measures up to the standards of God's Word. But all too often the idea of a good time is, "We intend to do what all the other young people do. Why can we not do drugs, drink alcohol, become drunken? Let us skip that which is religious. We need not be so pious. What's wrong with cursing and swearing? Everyone does it." It's the theory of the unbeliever. The child of God may have no part with that.
There are other views in the religious community about the intermediate state that we also, on the basis of Scripture, must reject. There is the view of "soul sleep." According to this view, the souls of both the children of God and the unbeliever at the time of death become unconscious. Consciousness returns the moment the body is raised from the dead. A comparison is made to our sleeping at night. We go to bed at ten o'clock. We fall asleep and wake up again at 6:00 in the morning. Though we may have had our dreams, we hardly know anything of that interval--eight hours are simply gone. These insist that this also occurs at the time of death. These quote Scripture, too, which seems to lend some measure of support to the view. When Christ spoke about Lazarus in John 11:11, He said to His disciples, who were urging Him to go to Jerusalem to heal Lazarus from his sickness, "Lazarus sleepeth." When they misunderstood Him, He told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead." The people who believe in soul sleep insist that Jesus was telling His disciples that Lazarus' soul was sleeping and it would remain sleeping until he would be raised from the dead.
There is also the passage in Psalm 17:15: "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." To awake infers one has been asleep; and that sleep, so the conclusion is, is the sleep between physical death and the bodily resurrection. We emphatically deny that. We believe it's a discouraging, disheartening view to say the least, but we deny it principally because it's not Scriptural. Though Scripture tells us very little about the intermediate state, there are passages that speak of it. Scripture says more about the resurrection body and heavenly life, but references can be found also to the "intermediate state." One recalls the Word of Christ to the thief on the cross. In Luke 23:43 in response to the plea of the thief, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into they kingdom," Jesus said, "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." That's conscious glory upon death. Incidentally, those who believe in soul sleep would place a comma after the word "today." "Verily I say unto thee today, 'thou shalt be with me in paradise.'" This could then refer to the time of the resurrection of the body. But there is no grammatical, Scriptural reason for doing that.
We read in Revelation 6:9 of souls, not bodies, of the righteous who were martyred for Jesus' sake, crying out for final deliverance. Their cry indicates consciousness. They had not their resurrection bodies. Yet they could cry and ask God to send the deliverance of which He spoke in His Word.
And if we, out of curiosity, ask about a man as Lazarus who was dead several days before he was raised again, we probably cannot find the answers. Was Lazarus unconscious during those four days of death? Or was he in glory consciously only to be brought back to this corrupted, sin cursed earth? Was he in the glory of the heavenly consciously, but when he came back that God somehow blocked his consciousness of the glory that he had already enjoyed, in order that he could still continue living on this earth? We would have to say that's a matter of speculation. It's not strictly for us to know now. It's very possible that he was unconscious during those days of his death because God intended to raise him from the death shortly. Scripture does not say and we ought not then to speculate.
There is another view of the intermediate state. You are well aware of the view of Roman Catholicism. These teach that at the time of death the average Roman Catholic goes to purgatory. Purgatory comes from the word "purge" or "cleanse." These insist that most members of the Roman Catholic Church are not fully cleansed at their death. Therefore they must spend some time in purgatory. Purgatory is not hell, but it's a place of cleansing. The length one has to stay there depends on the sinfulness of that individual in this life. Christ paid for part of his sins. The individual himself removed some sins by way of his good deeds on this earth. But when death comes, still more must be done. That takes place, they say, in purgatory. Their proof for the place of purgatory comes basically from the apocryphal books, not from Scripture. Their argument is especially on human reasoning.
These claim that everyone commits different amounts and kinds of sin. They illustrate it thus: you may commit a hundred sins; I may commit two hundred sins. Therefore I deserve twice as much of the wrath of God as you do. Christ paid for the original sin of Adam. He also paid for those sins committed before one's conversion. Our remaining personal sins (venial sins) must be paid by doing good works on earth and by enduring additional cleansing in purgatory. The length of stay in purgatory is in proportion to the number of sins that still must be removed.
The terrible error of that view is that it denies the power, the effectiveness, of the Cross of Christ. If Christ fully paid for all of the sins of all of His own, whether it be for the thief that hung next to Christ on the cross, or whether it be for Peter who denied Christ three times, or whether it be for the sins of the most pious of Saints, Christ paid for all of these sins through His shed blood. Surely there are differences in sins. Surely one is a greater sinner than another. There is no question about that. The question is, "What did the cross accomplish? Did Christ fully pay for every sin of all of those given Him by the Father?" The testimony of Scripture is, "Yes." He's Jesus. For He came to deliver us from our sins, from all of our sins.
So what do we believe about that period after our physical death? We must have our proof from Scripture. Some have placed undue emphasis upon after-death experiences that some people seem to have. You have heard of after-death experiences. There are those who have come to the point of death; they have stopped breathing; their hearts stopped beating. Now by means of medical science, these are brought back to life. Some of these people return with remarkable stories. They speak of a long tunnel with a bright light at the end. They have been whisked through the tunnel and they saw someone at the end. Some say they saw Jesus, some say a departed relative. Then they were called back again to this life. Those who have gone through such experiences will often say, "Now I am not afraid of death anymore, because I know there is something far better beyond."
I want to emphasize that though these stories are interesting, we must not place our expectation or hope of eternal life and resurrection on such "experiences." I say that because our "experiences" are not infallible. Our experiences do not represent God's Word to us. Some who had nothing to do with the Church, who had rejected the cross, who had even worshipped idols, had this experience too. Yet Scripture shows that's impossible. And so I remind you, do not rely on after-death experiences. Do not forget: Satan can use these "experiences" to turn us away from the testimony of Scripture and place our reliance rather on the experience of others. That's a terrible error.
What does Scripture say? The Bible does not tell us a great deal about the intermediate state-and it does not for a good reason. The emphasis of Scripture is on eternal life, upon the resurrection of the dead, upon the renewal of the heavens and the earth. The intermediate state is only an interlude; an in-between period. Scripture does, however, say something. When Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross, He said, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." That means Christ would be consciously in paradise that very day. The thief would consciously be in paradise with Christ that very day. This would be true even though their bodies were dead. Revelation 6:9 speaks of the cry of the souls under the altar. This indicates conscious life of those whose bodies remained in the grave. There is a parable of Lazarus and the rich man. When Lazarus dies he opens his eyes in Abraham's bosom. The rich man dies and opens his eyes in the depth of hell. Now admittedly this is a parable. Therefore also those who speak of soul sleep would insist that because this is a parable, it can not be used to disprove their view. The fact is, however, that Christ intended to teach that there is immediate glory and immediate wrath at that point of death. The rich man could not escape immediate wrath of God when he died. Lazarus would not be deprived of conscious glory the moment he died. Each went to his own place. Yes, it is a parable. And so Abraham and the rich man talked together across the abyss between heaven and hell. That's part of the parable. Certainly we will not converse with people in hell when we are in heaven and those in hell will not be able to converse with God's people. The point is the consciousness that each possessed immediately after death. So the child of God acknowledges that though we can't understand all that takes place at the time of our death, nevertheless, on the basis of the Word of God, we look forward to immediate glory with Christ in heaven, though we are without our bodies.
Philosophical questions have been raised. How does our soul, how can the soul, exist apart from the body? Right now our souls and bodies are so intertwined that we would almost have to conclude that without a body, the soul can't express itself. How can I speak if I don't have a mouth? How can I see if I don't have an eye? How can I walk if I don't have feet? The soul needs the body to express itself. So when the body dies and the soul escapes, how does that soul now express itself if it has a conscious existence in glory?
II Corinthians 5:1 gives us some idea. "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." When the "tabernacle," that is, this present body, is dissolved, when it goes into the dust, then we have a "building of God." Now we might ask ourselves what does that mean? What is this "house not made with hands?" What will it look like? I don't know. The Bible doesn't tell us. Scripture does tell us that there is a place, a house, not made with hands, and that the child of God can be assured of that. When this body is dissolved there is that building of God into which the child of God enters and can consciously express himself. That's the intermediate state.
But our real concern in the Catechism and in the Apostle's Creed is the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Some interesting things must be mentioned in that regard. In the first place, if someone asks, "What is this resurrected body? What does it look like?" I suppose I could say, "Let's go to the tomb outside of Jerusalem where Jesus' body was buried. Let's look inside that tomb and see what we can see." The body had been placed there. It had been wrapped in clothing filled with spices, and yet when we look at that tomb on the third day, we see no body. We see the wrappings, undisturbed, but no body! That tells us, surely, that the body which had been placed there, must have come out again. In the second place it tells us that that body that came out must have been changed. When Lazarus came out of the tomb he was still wrapped in burial clothing. When Jesus came out of the tomb the burial clothing was undisturbed. The body came out, but this did not disturb the grave clothing. How can that be? Yet that is what happened.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, he stated, "A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have." We read in I Corinthians 15 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. When Jesus identified Himself after the resurrection and speaks of His body, He speaks of it not as flesh and blood, but as flesh and bones. The full significance of that we can't understand until the time of our own resurrection. But Jesus, nevertheless, emphasizes that there was a change, the same body was so changed that it was not bound anymore by the rules of this creation. He came forth without having the gravestone removed first; without having the grave clothing taken away. He came forth with a body that was not bound by locked doors. He could come into the room where His disciples had assembled while the door was locked. This all indicates that the resurrection body was a changed body.
The body of the resurrection is described significantly in the chapter we read. You might want to read the whole chapter again when you have the opportunity. The apostle Paul was writing to Corinth refuting another of many serious errors in that Church. There were some there who said that though Christ arose (they really didn't dare to deny that), we won't arise from the dead. Death is the end for Christians. We have to live a good life on this earth, but death is the end. The apostle Paul goes through all the arguments which show God's testimony concerning the resurrection of our bodies. He uses the remarkable illustration of the planting of a seed, whether it be of corn or wheat or some other seed. The seed is planted into the ground. That doesn't mean that seed is dead. The seed is alive. It is planted and thus put away from sight. Then with proper rain and sunshine it sprouts. From that seed (of corn) come the stalk, the kernel, the ear, the tassel. It's all there already in the seed that was planted. But the seed that was planted is nothing compared to the glory of the tassel and the beauty of the ears that come forth from the seed.
The apostle Paul says that's the way the resurrection is. When we put the body in the grave, we might say, "That's a sad thing. It's a loss." But we must not forget the picture of the seed. The body, planted in the ground, shall come forth in a far, far more glorious form than this body ever showed while it was here on this earth. And the apostle describes that further in the chapter. He describes the resurrection body as sinless. Now it's under the curse; then all sin is removed. Now it's a body of corruption; then it's a body of great beauty and loveliness. Now it's a body that's weak and frail; then it's a body strong, capable of carrying out all that God requires of us. That's the resurrection body. The child of God believes that resurrection. He believes that his body shall be changed. Those living at Christ's return, shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, says Scripture. Those who have died shall have their bodies rise again triumphantly to inherit the new heavens and the new earth.
That resurrection is denied by the unbeliever. An unbelieving scientist will say, "We can't prove a resurrection; and if we can't verify it scientifically, we can't believe it." "What body," so they might say, "ever came out of the grave?" They can't, of course, examine the resurrected Christ. He's in heaven. They can't examine Elijah and Enoch, who were translated immediately into glory, because they're in heaven. Whenever archaeologists dig in the ground, they find bones, dead bodies, that's all. They don't find anyone risen from the dead. The scientists will say, "There's no resurrection. There can be no resurrection. Impossible. How can that which is turned again to the dust, be restored? How can that which is burned come back again? How can that which is devoured by wild animals, digested within their stomachs, come back again? How can that which is drowned at sea and eaten by the beasts of the sea come back again?"
Well our puny minds cannot really explain what God, in His infinite power, can do. The only thing we must ask is: what does the Bible tell us? If it tells us there's resurrection from the dead, then we care not what thousands of unbelieving scientists say. If the Bible teaches it, I believe the resurrection of the dead. One of the objections we have against cremation is that the practice seems to have originated among those who wanted to prove to themselves and to others that they would never rise from the dead. If their ashes were scattered over the four corners of the earth, no one could ever restore it. But Scripture says there's the resurrection of the righteous to glory and there's the resurrection of the wicked to damnation. There is resurrection.
Some insist that if everyone were raised when Christ returns, there wouldn't be room for them to stand on this earth. Others have tried to prove that if everyone who ever lived were to stand in the state of Texas there would be sufficient room. But those arguments mean nothing. The body is changed. How much space does that body take? I don't know. We do know that God says they shall be raised again. They shall all be judged. The righteous shall be gathered together as sheep into the sheepfold; and the wicked, the goats, shall be cast into everlasting damnation. That shall be. That's the confession of the Apostle's Creed.
This is the confession of the child of God. It's the confession of the Church throughout the ages. The Word of God teaches this. Though the glory of that new life is a glory that goes beyond our full understanding, we nevertheless believe. There is the glory of fellowship and communion with God. Scripture says truly that the eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man to conceive the beauty that shall be. So we take, as it were, a little peek into the glory that shall be. We confess what Scripture declares.
There's the beauty of being with Christ, fellowshipping with Him and serving God perfectly. A child of God, through his tears at the death of a dear one, or in his tears in his pain and adversity, finds comfort in this confession of God's Word. He finds comfort. What is the comfort that you have when you say, "I believe the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?"
There's some very mistaken views about everlasting life, of course. There are many who would like to say, "Maybe there is a life everlasting." There are unbelievers who want to establish everlasting life on this earth. The aim of many scientists today is to prolong the average life span of man to 200 years, some say 500, some even say that if we master the mysteries of science, perhaps we can keep man alive forever. He wants to live on this earth in this present corruption forever. You don't want that, do you? Even were that possible, would you want to live here on this earth forever? With all of its corruptions? Its evils? We have the sinfulness of our own nature. Would we want to keep that forever here? I say anyone who has the view that everlasting life might be achieved here on this earth does not understand Scripture. Death is present now. Whatever man may do and whatever his accomplishments may be, that sentence of death remains. Our only hope it that this sentence is removed through the blood of the Lamb. Those only who are delivered through death by Him, are brought into glory.
The child of God, too, must be aware of his own conception of heaven. All too often we have the conception that heaven is such a beautiful place. Who would not want to be there? We think in terms of a paradise - its like going to Hawaii: that's a paradise. Soon our concept of heaven is it must look a little bit like Hawaii or one of the Pacific isles. There's no doubt that the new earth and the new heavens are of great beauty, beauty that we can't fully understand now. But that's not why we want to go to heaven, is it? Just to see a beautiful place? You'd soon get tired of beauty. One may live in the vicinity of the mountains. He looks at them everyday. Tourists say how beautiful they are. But the resident looks at them and says, "Yes, I guess they are." But he becomes so accustomed to them, he doesn't even think of the beauty anymore. If we seek heaven only for its great beauty, we would soon tire of looking at all of that. Heaven, beautiful though it is, is not desired by the Christian for its beauty, first of all. Others have said, and especially at the time of death, "Pretty soon I'm going to see my dear one again and I can hardly wait for the time. I'll see my husband or wife or child again in heaven." That sounds nice. Of course we want to see our dear ones in glory; but remember, that's not why we want to be in heaven. On this earth we want to be near our dear ones. In heaven everything is changed. There is neither marriage, nor giving in marriage. Our relationships there are not as they are now. That surely means, too, that though we may see and recognize dear ones in glory, we will also know that our relationships to them are no as before. Now it's a husband/wife, parent/child relationship. There perhaps, it might be compared more like a choir where all have their individual parts and all sing together perfectly the harmony of the Lord. But the child of God doesn't want to go to heaven first to see relatives.
So why does he want to go to heaven? Why do you? The Heidelberg Catechism states it very emphatically, and I think clearly, when it says that we will immediately be taken up to Christ our Head. Think of that. We've been talking about Christ all these years. We've been talking about incarnation. We've been talking about the cross. We've been talking about Christmas, and Easter, Good Friday. We've been talking about ascension. We've been emphasizing Christ. But to be there and see Christ, see Him, our Head, the very One who gave His life for us. He is the one who bore the infinite wrath of God, the wrath of hell, to deliver us. Oh, to see Him, that must be wonderful. And that is what we ultimately desire. We want to see Him, who is the center of all things, the Head over all, the Firstborn of every creature. We would see Him. There's nothing on this earth that compares to that.
Perhaps you might think of a foreigner who comes to this land. When he comes to this land, what do you think he would most like to see? The preacher who stands on the pulpit here in Loveland? Or the man who sits in the White House in Washington? Of course, he would desire to see the head man--the President of the United States. The child of God in a far, far, higher sense desires to see the Head over all: our representative, Jesus Christ.
And not only that, but also we desire a body like His. The child of God understands, on the basis of I Corinthians 15, that in the new heavens and the new earth we'll have a body like that of Christ. He came out of the tomb with a changed body. His body is the kind of body we shall have. Look at Him in his resurrected state and you'll know what you'll look like in glory. We want to enter glory for all of that.
In the second place the Heidelberg Catechism rightly reminds us that we enter there to praise God therein forever. We shall praise Him there forever! It doesn't really matter whether relatives are there. It doesn't matter how beautiful that creation is. That's incidental. That all serves one purpose which is that we may glorify God in the resurrected body forever without sin, without imperfection. We'll glory Him perfectly as he requires. The child of God must do that already now though in imperfection. Now we come to worship but our thoughts stray. We pray but we don't ask always for the right things. We forget to ask for what we ought to pray. And yet, even now, those who are regenerated and converted, find their chief joy in this earth to glorify God. That's the chief joy - to glorify God and His Son, Jesus Christ. But in glory we do that perfectly! What joy that must be!
Death does come. Unless Jesus returns before we die, death is inevitable. This body has to be laid in the grave. It must deteriorate. We cry. We don't want to leave husband, wife, or children. Why do we cry? Sometimes foolishly we speak of a life that's cut short before its time. Yet no life is ever cut short before its time. All is determined sovereignly and eternally by God. If one dies at 15 or 50 years, that's the time God ordained.
Sometimes tears flow because we think, "He's
going to miss seeing his children grow up, miss seeing them marry,
miss seeing them having their children and grandchildren. But
that is nonsense, isn't it? Why should we cry for one who leaves
this earth through the doorway of death to enter into glory?
We cry for him? What's he missing when he enters into heavenly,
eternal, conscious glory at death? He rejoices in deliverance.
We need not cry for the departed child of God, but we cry for
ourselves. We're the ones who suffer the loss. The
dear one is no longer at our side. We're the ones who must remain
yet for a time in this sin-cursed earth-but our dear one is in
the perfection of glory. We have to wallow through the
mire of sin yet, while our dear one enjoys fellowship with Christ.
No, if we cry, it's rather for ourselves. It is for what we've
lost; for what we have not yet obtained. When we know that there's
the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, the child of
God continues on this earth in his pilgrimage with assurance.
He looks for a heavenly city with foundations: the new Jerusalem
with all of its beauty and glory. There he will see Christ face-to-face.
That's what we confess when we say: I believe the resurrection
of the body and life everlasting.
Lord, our God, we thank Thee for Thy Word. What was spoken or heard in sin, forgive. And though we can but stammer a few words, Father, about the beauty of that which awaits Thy people in Christ, even this should give us anticipation and longing. Thou hast prepared for us a place eternal in the heavens. It is a treasure that none can steal and nothing can corrupt. Father, grant that we may set our hearts on that and not on the things of this earth which all pass away.
Dismiss us with Thy blessing. Hold us fast through the Lamb of God and guide us by His Spirit. We ask this in His name. Amen.