Part Three

by A.E. Knoch

A SERIOUS difficulty arises in reference to man's mission to the celestials. His present body is not at all capable of carrying it out. It is not adapted to any environment except the surface of the earth. When the Corinthians doubted the resurrection, this seems to have been the chief stumbling block. "How are the dead being roused, and with what body are they coming" (1 Cor.15:35)? For Israel there is no need of much change except immunity from death. For the celestial saints, that is not enough. With a body of flesh and blood they would suffer intensely from a celestial environment. Those who talk glibly of "going to heaven," should not think only of the golden harps, but of the possible pain and distress which is the lot of human beings who ascend to a great height above their normal surroundings in the lower regions of the earth.

In meeting this question, the apostle appeals to the facts of nature. He points to three distinct spheres, the plants, the animals, and the heavenly bodies, and draws a different lesson from each. He calls attention to the seeds of plants, the flesh of men and beasts and flyers and fishes, and to the bodies of celestial beings. The terrestrial bodies differ from the glory of the celestial. These have many degrees of glory, as shown in the sun, the moon, and the stars. Then this is further elaborated and applied to the resurrection, and the marvelous change which will transform our corrupt, dishonorable, infirm, soulish, soilish frames into incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, celestial bodies, fit for our high mission among the heavenly hosts.

Three distinct phases of our return from death to life are presented in the Scriptures, each of which is associated with a distinct feature of man's constitution. Resurrection is related especially to the body, rousing to the soul, and vivification to the spirit. Of course they are so closely involved with one another that one usually implies the rest of them. Yet it seems that, in explaining how vivification proceeds, we are pointed to seeds; rousing to flesh; while resurrection is explained by means of celestial bodies. The vegetable, the animal and the mineral kingdom are called upon to explain the change in spirit, soul and body respectively.


The oldest life forms on the earth's surface, so far as I am aware, are plants. I once saw a tree in the high Sierras of California, which is, perhaps, the largest form of life known to man. So far as I could determine, it dates back as far as the deluge, about four thousand years. Plants come much nearer to incorruptibility and immortality than animals. But this is not the illustration used to explain the resurrection. This tree has had no need of vivification, for it has never died. It is so vast in its proportions that it contains enough lumber to build a whole village.

All life, even that of plants, is due to spirit, and can only spring from spirit. But the mode of transmission in most plants differs from that in animals. In the latter the seed gradually develops into a new individual. In the grains the kernel does not bring forth another kernel, but produces a whole plant, with foliage and flowers, much more wonderful in form and appearance than itself. The point here seems to be that the vitality, the spirit of the seed is transmitted to a habitation quite different from that which it left, even if it is the same spirit. The great change is in the two bodies that the one spirit receives. A grain remains a grain until its form perishes. If its outward form does not decay and die, the plant does not spring up.

The usual translation, "that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die," seems to suggest that only dead seed can produce a new crop. But quite the opposite is true. Dead seed will only decay. It will bring forth nothing. It should read, "what you are sowing is not vivifying if it should not be dying." That is, the dying (not dead) seed imparts its life to the new plant. In the process of doing this, it must give up its own life. It loses its form and what is left of it decays. There is no return from death as with us. We are not pointed to plants as examples of vivification such as we will experience at the presence of Christ. Seeds are simply illustrations of how the same spirit may be clothed with a body far more marvelous than the one which has decayed.

The comparison between the seeds of plants and ourselves is not immediately enforced, but is delayed a few lines, in which the flesh of animals on earth and the bodies of celestial spheres are also introduced, in order to cover the soul and body as well as the spirit, which we have just discussed. That the seeds are once more the subject is evident from the resumption of the figure of sowing. Terrestrial flesh and celestial bodies are not sown. So long as this picture is used, we may be sure that the comparison is between the seed and the plant which springs from it and stresses the spirit. Yet this is also linked to the next comparison, which concerns the soul, because our soulish bodies will be roused a spiritual body. It is important to remember that, although spirit and soul are often in view in this discussion, the dominating theme is the resurrection body.

As the seed in the soil goes to corruption, so it is with our mortal bodies. They are, so to speak, planted in the soil, and are returning to it. While the seed is left to decay in the earth, the plant is thrusting its blade above the ground, its stalk is shooting upward, its foliage is spreading abroad, its flowers are scenting the air. What a contrast! So it is with the bodies which our spirits now inhabit, compared with that which shall be. Like the seed sown in the soil, our mortal frames are dying, disintegrating, returning to the soil, until the spirit leaves and returns to God Who gave it. But this same spirit, like the vital force of the plant, will vivify a body which will never die, which the least tinge of corruption will never touch. What a relief! What a joy! How unutterably thankful we will be! Our adoration of God will no longer be handicapped by a corrupting corpse, but, rather, that by-gone experience will enable us to enjoy it to the full, and respond to the grace of which it is an expression.


Our present fleshly frame is sown in dishonor. It will be roused in glory. Humiliation was God's aim in giving us the bodies which we now possess. Its very grace and beauty, when in its prime, only emphasizes the degradation to which it sinks as its vitality vanishes, its bloom fades, and its features are disfigured. Teeth decay, hearing becomes dull, sight becomes dim, and the bodily functions fail. Senility is a sad sight, indeed, unless we see in it a God-given contrast to the glory which is in store for us in the resurrection. Even to be rid of these inglorious signals of decay and death would be a consummation devoutly to be wished. But that is far from fulfilling the expectation held out to us. Even the glory of Adam's sinless form, doubtless clothed in a luminous robe of light, cannot compare with the celestial splendor that will be ours in that day.

It is sown in infirmity; it is roused in power. How helpless is a babe of the human race! Perhaps no other living thing is so dependent as a newborn child. And even when it reaches maturity, how pitifully puny man is when matched with the forces of nature! And how soon the strength of the mighty leaves them! A few score years and most men have spent their vigor. Work becomes a burden. Steps begin to totter. Backs begin to bend. Infirmity makes life an intolerable load, in case disease or violence has not cut short our career. All this would reflect seriously on the Creator if it were the object and end of His dealings with mankind. But it only enhances His fame, when we see that infirmity is merely the foil for the display of the future power that will be ours in resurrection. Then, by comparison, even the professional strong men of today will be puny puppets. Then the work that wearied us once will be like a welcome relaxation.

It is sown a soulish body, it is roused a spiritual. We may not be able to grasp this contrast as easily as the previous ones, but here we are given a clue which will lead us to see why our present bodies are corruptible and dishonorable and infirm. The life principle, spirit, is not paramount. Instead, it unites with the soil to form the soul, or sensation, and this takes the first place in controlling the body. As this is the principal point in the next discussion, we will not go into it farther here. It will be much easier to understand after we have studied the place of the flesh in our present bodies.

Having shown by the illustration of the seed that the same spirit may vitalize two different kinds of bodies, such as a bare kernel and a plant with branches, leaves, flowers and fruit, when the one first goes to corruption, Paul now turns to the soul, and appeals to the animal world to illustrate quite a different aspect of the return from death. There was no change in spirit, unless it be in quantity, in the plant. The change was in the structure, the body of the life form. But the soul of animals, being in the blood, is closely connected with the flesh. Superficially, one might expect that the different bodily forms or shapes be pointed out, which adapt each animal to its surroundings, the fish for the water and especially the bird for the air. But we will not receive wings in resurrection! The change goes deeper than that. It is our flesh that needs a renewal.

In order to be able to grasp the greatest change in resurrection we will need to be well grounded in the part played by the flesh in man as he now is. The lack of this knowledge has led to much misapprehension of man's past. It is essential if we wish to apprehend his future. The flesh is the villain in the tragedy of human history. To it is due the failure and futility which has characterized his existence hitherto. It is impossible for us to realize this apart from God's revelation. Even then much has been missed, and believers themselves are tempted to try and improve the incorrigible flesh. It was not until Paul's epistles were penned, and we hid the final verdict condemning the flesh, that its true character and function could be understood. But when once we learn this, then we can see its real role from the very beginning.


All flesh is not the same, however (1 Cor.15:39). This is vital to our theme. We can see this in nature. Not only is there human flesh, but the various forms of animal life have flesh also. From these we may learn the needful lesson that all flesh is adapted to its sphere. The birds may fly in the air and the fishes swim in the sea, but woe to the bird that seeks the depths of the ocean or the fish that would fly in the empyrean! Both would die in a comparatively short time, because their flesh is not fashioned for the element in which they find themselves. Man may dive beneath the water and jump into the air for a short space of time. He may prolong his stay by artificial means for a longer period. But his flesh is so constituted that it cannot live anywhere except on the surface of the earth, for which it was made. Airplanes and submarines are abnormal, and are chiefly used as instruments of destruction and death.


Flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God because it is corruptible (1 Cor.15:50). Flesh without blood tends to disintegrate, decompose, decay, putrefy, and return to the soil from which it came. It is by a constant renewal of elements from the soil through the blood that living flesh is kept from total decomposition or corruption, such as would take place if it were severed from the body altogether, and there were no blood to replace the waste, and repair the tissue. This is what takes place at death. The beginning of decomposition commences long before life ceases. That has been going on from the start, even before birth. Before death it is counteracted by the assimilation of food and oxygen in healthy, youthful organisms, but to a diminishing degree as age decreases the vitality.

Let us repeat this important fact in other words. Soil from the ground, formed into an organism by the hand of God, would soon return to the soil without blood to bring further supplies in the form of food, as well as oxygen from the air to replace the losses due to the disintegration which results from the life processes. If we take a piece of flesh which is cut off from these supplies and take no measures to hinder it from spoiling, it will soon decompose and disappear, with very disagreeable accompaniments. This simple fact in nature, which all men have observed, gives the word flesh, its special meaning and usage in God's word. It is the corruptible part of man, often miscalled his "sinful nature," and other misleading terms. When mankind is called flesh, by the figure near association, it does not mean merely that he is composed of organic soil, or that he has a body, but that he is corruptible and mortal.


The process of building and demolishing the bodies of living creatures is called metabolism by medical men, and is divided into anabolism (UP-CASTing) and katabolism (DOWN-CASTing). It is, in effect, living and dying at the same time. If the flesh were not continually supplied with fresh substance and energy by means of the blood, it would gradually waste away until all of it had returned to inorganic soil. It would go to corruption. The blood is needed, not merely to build and to vitalize, but to repair the damage which is constantly occurring. This is what is meant by the phrase "flesh and blood." First of all, flesh continually inclines to decompose, yet is hindered by the blood, which reaches every part and counteracts decay.


This system of flesh and blood may last indefinitely, so long as it functions perfectly. It seems that Adam and Eve continued to keep themselves nourished and healthy by means of the fruits of Eden's garden. Even though their flesh was the same as ours (for we inherit ours from them), it was renewed as fast as it was broken down, so, for practical purposes, displayed none of the signs of decay. The repair was so persistent and perfect that the measure of the flesh's decomposition was made up by the continual assimilation. But the moment that they ate a substance which, instead of repairing and restoring the flesh, acted rather to cooperate with the latter in its tendency to decay, then the flesh was no longer restrained as it had been, and a gradual process of corruption, or dying, changed the course of life toward death, and immediately dimmed the glory of primeval perfection.

Adam, in Eden, was not immortal in any sense. That he could die is evident from the fact that he did, eventually. That he was not immune from death even before he sinned seems indicated by the presence of the tree of life in the midst of the garden (Gen.2:9). Of this he could freely eat, though there was no need. As a result he was not dying. He was not undergoing the process of death, which characterizes all humanity since his expulsion from Eden, and will continue until the tree is restored in the future (Ezek.47:12; Rev.22:2). The immortality of the soul, or of the spirit, or of the body, or of the whole man, is contrary to God's Word from beginning to end. Sin and death are necessary for training man for his mission in the universe, as well as for his own knowledge of God, and His grace and love. Therefore Adam was made mortal and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was put within his reach, so that, through the discipline of death, he might be prepared for his place in the universe.

That the tree of life was not only a food, but also a medicine, is clear from later scriptures, and is intimated by Adam's expulsion from the garden. Even after he had offended, he was driven forth lest he take of the tree of life and live for the eon. The tree that he did not need before he sinned could have kept him from death afterward. In the next eon, when Christ is the great Priest of His people, the tree will be a panacea for the ills of the nations. Its fruit will be for food, but its leaves will heal them of their diseases (Ezek.47:12). In the new earth its curative power will not be needed for the nations. That is why death will be no more (Rev.21:4). It is not that the nations will be immortal, or that the dying process has been done away with. That does not come until the consummation, when death is abolished (1 Cor.15:26). Were there no tree of life to arrest the ravages of the last enemy, death would still reap its grim harvest in the last eon.


There was an antidote for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All that Adam needed to do was to take of the tree of life, and the dying process, which had begun in him, would have been arrested. To those who are not in God's confidence it seems strange that He should have planted a poisonous tree in the midst of the garden, even if He did warn Adam not to eat of it. Yet it is stranger still that, after planting the tree of life, He would not let Adam eat of it in order to counteract the evil that had been done. And not only so, but why does He not give us such a tree today, when it is so sorely needed? In the coming eon He will not withhold this boon from mankind, and they will find relief from the weakness and the corruption which is inherent in the flesh, by eating the fruit of the tree of life (Ezek.47:12, Rev.22:2). There will be no need of the tree in the fifth eon as God will be in their presence and the light.

The setting of the scene in Eden was entirely contrary to the teaching of theology. To make it agree we would be forced to exchange the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden for the tree of life. If God wanted men to be immortal at that time He would have put this tree within man's easy reach and taken the fatal tree away entirely.

Moreover, why were the cherubim with their flaming sword not used to bar the serpent out of Eden before Adam sinned, rather than Adam after his transgression? Or why not to keep Adam away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, rather than from the tree of life?

[Part Four]

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