JOHN 3:16 REFERS TO BODILY IMMORTALITY
Copyright © 2012 by Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
I have reflected previously on the fact that the goal of redemption is the resurrection of the physical body to eternal life, that is, to immortality.
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7)
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (I Corinthians 15:53)
John 3:16, though it does not use the term “immortality” when it speaks of “everlasting life” is referring to bodily immortality. Actually, when the Bible speaks of “life,” it often is referring to bodily immortality, not to consciousness in a spiritual form other than the body.
I think there is at least one reason why the focus of the Gospel of the Kingdom has been changed to the Gospel of Heaven, with a dismissal of the emphasis on immortality in the physical body.
The reason for the change in the Gospel may have been the influence of other religions that held out the prospect of some kind of paradise after death. Foremost among these would be the religion of Gnosticism, which I believe pervades Christian thinking to the present hour.
Gnosticism is based on the idea that specialized knowledge is the most important factor if we wish to pass from the corrupt material world into a higher form of existence.
The dualism present in Gnostic teaching is that the spiritual world is good and the physical world is bad. I think this idea, that spirit is good and the physical is bad, is embedded in our thinking. The truth is, when God created the physical world He pronounced it very good. The sin and corruption came not from the physical world but from Satan, from the world of spirits.
Obviously if our understanding of the purpose of salvation is to bring us to a more exalted spiritual plane, then the resurrection of our body, or any need to prepare for the resurrection of our body, would be given minor attention or ignored.
The Christian Scriptures do not emphasize a spiritual kingdom but a physical-spiritual kingdom. We begin as physical creatures with a spiritual inward nature. The first step in entering the Kingdom of God is to be born again. This means the Substance of Christ must be born in us.
Then we must, through Christ, overcome many obstacles if we are to continue to abide in Christ. The Substance of Christ, His body and blood in us, responds to our efforts to overcome by growing in the image of Christ until we have a greatly strengthened inner man.
This strengthened inner man makes it possible for us to be filled with all the fullness of God so that when Christ returns, our physical body can be raised from the dead and clothed with a body from Heaven, which has been fashioned by the Holy Spirit as we have pressed forward in Christ.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
When the above states that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” the meaning is not that Christ doesn’t actually dwell in our heart, we just have faith that He does. It means, rather, that as we in faith keep looking to Christ for our every thought, word, and action, Christ dwells in our heart in actuality.
When Christ next comes to earth, all those who are part of Christ will return with Him. He will come from Heaven with His armies, and pause in the air overhead.
Then the saints of all ages will descend to earth, their bodies, as I have stated, will be assembled and raised, and then their raised bodies will be clothed upon with a body from Heaven that has been manufactured by the Holy Spirit and modified by their behavior on the earth.
If we are alive at the time of the Lord’s coming, the blood will be withdrawn from our physical body and replaced with the Spirit of God. Then our body will be clothed with our house from Heaven.
Stop and consider: the saints who return with the Lord Jesus have already been in Heaven—some of them for thousands of years. If residence in Heaven is our goal, and there therefore is no need for a bodily resurrection, why then do these people return with Jesus and pick up their body from the ground or ocean? This makes sense?
Today, in Christian thinking, we emphasize the inward nature of a person, his spirit and soul. What sort of inward nature did Adam have? What did God breathe into him. It may have been blood, because Leviticus tells us the life of the flesh is in the blood. Or it may have been air, because air and blood are closely related in flesh-and-blood life.
The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [soul] (Genesis 2:7)
In any case, it is likely that Adam had a soul, a personality, and a spirit that could communicate with God.
But when Adam disobeyed God, God did not mention the death of his spirit and soul, but of his body.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)
This is speaking of Adam’s body. It is not likely that Adam’s soul and spirit were formed from the dust. So we deduce from this that we do not know where Adam’s soul and spirit went when they died. Are they still present in the spirit world?
Also, and relevant to our theme in this essay, the emphasis in Genesis is not on the spirit and soul of Adam but on his body. The moment He sinned, corruption and death began to work in his body.
The Bible does not count us as alive until we are raised from the dead and clothed with Divine Life, the Life of Christ. Since this concept has a bearing on my emphasis in the present essay, let me present two passages that support my assertion.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (I Corinthians 15:22,23)
Now, let us think carefully about the passage above. Adam died physically, and so we all suffer physical death. Christ, the Firstfruits of the Church, died physically. Then Christ was made alive. I believe most of us would assume this means He came alive physically after His physical death.
But the second part states that those who belong to Christ will be made alive when He returns. Will be made alive! Is this saying that we all are dead until Christ comes and raises our body from the grave?
If this is the case, then the Bible is saying that we are dead until our body is resurrected, even though there is eternal life in our inward nature. Would you agree with this?
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4,5)
“They came to life.” “Did not come to life.”
I think these expressions are referring to the resurrection of the body.
Perhaps, because of the influence of Gnosticism, we are under the impression that God dwells in our inward nature. But it is the body that is the temple of God. I believe, in fact, that the holy city, the new Jerusalem, is fashioned from the resurrected bodies of the saints.
Have you ever noticed what God said to Adam and Eve? “You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.”
Think about that. We would say the important part of Adam and Eve was their inward nature. This is Gnostic thinking. God said they were dust, ignoring their inward nature. Can you see how heavily our thinking has been warped?
I realize that Paul said sin dwells in our body. This is true. Our sinful nature dwells in our body. In fact, this is the point. It is not the body itself that is sinful, because the body is morally neutral. It is the spirits that dwell in the body that cause the body to have the compulsions that it does.
Paul directed us to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. The filth of the flesh and spirit are spirits.
When God created Adam and Eve they had no filthiness in their flesh or their spirit. The filth came down from the heavenlies when Satan lied to Eve, persuading her to sin. The original people had no sin nature until Satan managed to persuade the two innocent human beings to sin.
We do not think in these terms of our being dead until we are raised from the dead, but the Apostles knew this to be a fact.
It is true, as Paul said, that our spirit is alive because of righteousness but our body is dead because of sin. Our spirit is alive because it has been touched by the Spirit of God as a result of our obeying God by receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior. It is God’s intention, if we put to death the actions of our sinful nature, to make our body alive.
All true life is of the Spirit of God. This is why God regards our present body as dead.
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:10-13)
What we have in our inward nature, in addition to the Substance of Christ being formed in it, is a portion of the Holy Spirit. This portion of the Holy Spirit is a sort of down payment on the fullness of the Spirit that will be given to us if we continue obeying Christ. Therefore, that part of us is alive.
But if we do not continue to obey Christ, if we continue to live according to our sinful nature, we will die inwardly. The down payment of the Spirit will be taken from us. Then we will have a dead inward nature and a dead body, as far as God is concerned. The wages of sin for the sinning believer is spiritual death in the inward nature.
Notwithstanding all this, the hope of the Gospel of the Kingdom is not life in our inward nature, it is life in the body—that which we always have understood to be “life” until our thinking was perverted by the influence of the religion of Gnosticism. Our hope is to live again in our body. This is the hope of Easter–we shall live again in our body in a state of immortality.
The entire fifteenth chapter of the Book of First Corinthians is about the resurrecting of our body. This raises the possibility that even as early as Paul’s day, people were questioning the resurrection of the body of the believers.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (I Corinthians 15:12)
I would imagine that it would be Gnostic thinking that would resist the bodily resurrection of the believers–perhaps even the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This may account for the following statement:
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (I John 4:2)
Gnosticism would have nothing to do with the idea that God would send a Savior in the flesh!
So the massive errors of our day, the discounting of the need for believers to prepare themselves for the resurrection, and the view of eternal residence in the spirit world, in Heaven, as being the goal of salvation, may stem in large part from the religion of Gnosticism. I think it may be true that many Christian people regard spiritual as good and physical as evil, this being the message of the religion of Gnosticism.
I have mentioned in other writings the deadly trilogy that is preached today in place of the Gospel of the Kingdom. The deadly trilogy is grace-rapture-Heaven. Our hope is eternal residence in Heaven (a Gnostic value). We get there by a lawless grace (this is a misunderstanding of the Apostle Paul, driven by the current democratic-humanistic rights of people.)
The “rapture,” a totally unscriptural myth, is a humanistic concern for people, teaching them that they need not worry that they might suffer from Antichrist or the Great Tribulation. The reason the believers gladly accept the unscriptural teaching of the rapture is that they wish to escape trouble and pain. The “rapture” has nothing to do with wanting to be with Jesus.
The concept of eternal residence in Heaven in the spirit world, reclining in our mansion with no responsibilities, being the goal of our salvation, has no basis whatever in the Bible. Do you notice that in this pattern there is no place for the resurrection of the body? Who needs a resurrected physical body if we are to live permanently in a mansion in the spirit world?
Needless to say, a great part of our Christian thinking is not in accordance with the Scriptures. It is difficult for me to see how we ever are going to escape the deadly influence of Gnosticism, but I know such a change will take place in the not too distant future. The Lord Jesus prayed that we shall be one in Him in the Father, and with each other, and this shall come to pass—and eventually in physical forms.
Let us compare the two different gospels and decide which is in accordance with the New Testament. One is the Gospel of Heaven. The other is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which includes bodily immortality.
Before we compare the two gospels, however, let us think about some of God’s goals and needs in order to determine which of the two gospels is the more likely to accomplish these goals and needs. Below are some of the needs and goals of the Kingdom of God:
- Create members of the Bride of the Lamb. Which of the two gospels, the Gospel of Heaven or the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which includes bodily immortality, is most likely to create members of the Bride of the Lamb, do you think? (Revelation 21:9)
- Create living stones of which the eternal House of God is to be constructed. (Ephesians 2:22)
- Create members of the Body of Christ. (I Corinthians 12:12)
- Create lights of the world. (Matthew 5:14)
- Create people who can bear the Glory of the end-time revival. (Isaiah 60:1,2)
- Create royal priests who can restore and maintain Paradise on the earth. (Romans 8:21)
- Create saints who can serve for eternity as sources of eternal life and healing for the saved people from the nations. (I Corinthians 15:45)
- Create witnesses of God. (Isaiah 43:10)
- Create believers who will be the salt of the earth, making the earth palatable to God. (Matthew 5:13)
- Give birth to sons of God. (Revelation 21:7)
- Form brothers of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29)
- Bring forth those who are able to overcome the accuser. (Revelation 12:11)
- Train those who will be governors of the nations of the earth. (Revelation 2:26,27)
- Train soldiers for the army of the Lord. (Joel 2:11)
- Prepare those who will judge people and angels. (I Corinthians 6:2,3)
- Prepare those who will serve as a wall of defence around the Glory of God. (Revelation 21:14)
- Train in patience the saints who will serve as gates of pearl providing entrance into the new Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:21)
- Bring the saints to maturity in Christ such that they become the revelation of Himself—God in Christ in the saints. (Revelation 3:12)
Perhaps you can think of additional roles in the Kingdom of God that are especially meaningful to you.
Having set forth God’s goals and needs, so we can determine whether the Gospel of Heaven, or the Gospel of the Kingdom, including bodily immortality, is most likely to enable us to satisfy these goals and needs, we now will examine the two gospels to determine what our conclusion might be.
The current gospel, the Gospel of Heaven, teaches the following:
Once we “accept Christ” we need not be overly concerned with godly behavior. We should try to please Christ to show our appreciation for Him and His sacrifice, but even if we fail to put to death the actions of our sinful nature, our eternal residence in Heaven after we die is assured.
We are not saved by works of righteousness we have done. We are saved by a Divine “grace.” Grace is an alternative to righteous behavior. Grace, as it is preached today, is one part of a “new dispensation.” The new dispensation views our behavior in a different manner as compared with the prior covenants.
The numerous exhortations to righteous behavior, and the examples of righteous people, found in the Old Testament, were for that day. They are of no use to us today who are “saved by grace.”
All human beings of time past and of today are sinners. All our works are filthy rags. There are none who are righteous, no, not one. Any attempt on our part to live righteously is an affront to the grace of God. It is a legalistic Pharisaism, unworthy of God’s endless mercy and grace.
We are eternally saved and are overcomers by virtue of the fact that we have made a profession of belief in Jesus Christ. God holds us to be perpetually righteous as soon as we make the correct profession of faith in Christ.
Even though someone, perhaps a child, has never heard of Christ, he or she shall be thrown into the Lake of Fire because he or she has not “accepted Christ.”
Believing in Christ does not have to be accompanied by obedience to the commands of Christ or His Apostles. We are found righteous by faith (actually mental assent) and faith alone. Our behavior is not a significant factor in our salvation. It is a free ride to Heaven, we might say.
As far as Heaven is concerned, this is a wonderful Paradise. There is a mansion for every saved person. There are streets of gold. The inhabitants play harps to pass the time. They may praise God for a thousand years. They have no responsibilities other than to praise God. They spend eternity “singing and shouting and dancing about,” as one elderly person explained to me.
The doctrine of the “rapture” of the believers into Heaven to avoid Antichrist and the Great Tribulation dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century, according to my understanding. There appear to be no requirements for participation other than to “accept Christ.”
Notice how often the term “accept Christ” appears when we discuss the grace-Heaven-rapture trilogy. The expression “accept Christ” does not appear in the Bible, as far as I can tell.
Sometimes the doctrine of the rapture is accompanied by the idea that it will occur at “any moment.” Also, there is a disagreement whether it will occur before the Great Tribulation; or in the middle of the Great Tribulation; or at the end of the Great Tribulation. In the case of the last view, it would not serve as an escape from the Great Tribulation.
I am sure that there are numerous other subjects that are preached by pastors and evangelists, especially as we are nearing a presidential election. Also, there almost always is great stress on “going forth to save a lost and dying world,” or on personal evangelism. However, grace-Heaven-rapture appears to be quite common, according to letters I receive from people who are looking for a church that teaches the Bible.
Now that I have imperfectly described some of the current emphases, let me elaborate a bit on the trilogy from what I believe to be a more scriptural viewpoint. Remember, our purpose here is to determine which of the two gospels, the Gospel of Heaven or the Gospel of the Kingdom, is most likely to accomplish God’s goals and needs.
Paul’s use of the word “grace” cannot possibly be interpreted as an alternative to godly behavior. In several instances Paul warned the believers that if they continue in sin they would die spiritually and would not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Paul maintained that we are going to reap what we sow. If we sow to the Spirit of God we shall reap eternal life. If however we live according to our sinful nature we are not going to inherit the Kingdom of God.
It is a point of interest that Paul referred to our inheriting the Kingdom of God. Never one time did Paul suggest that if we sinned we would not go to Heaven. It may be that my reader views Heaven and the Kingdom of God as being the same thing. They are not. The Kingdom of God is a government. Heaven is a place. The Kingdom of God governs equally well in Heaven and upon the earth.
When Paul stressed that we are saved by faith and not by works, he was addressing Jews primarily. The problem with the Jews was they always had been taught that righteousness comes only as we obey the Law of Moses. Paul was teaching them that God can assign righteousness to someone who was not under the Law, and Paul used Abraham as an example.
Divine grace means that God will assign righteousness to someone who leaves the Law of Moses and follows Christ. Grace assuredly is not God’s way of ascribing righteousness to someone who is continuing to sin. Such a position would be completely contrary to the New Testament.
Although the current employment of the term “grace” ordinarily refers to forgiveness and righteousness apart from righteous behavior, the word is used in the Bible to mean any assistance we receive from God.
Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD. (Isaiah 26:10)
Notice in the verse above that God may accept the wicked for a season in the hope they will learn to behave righteously. Isn’t that just as true today?
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. (Acts 6:8)
The second doctrine of the trilogy is the idea that we are “saved” so we will go to Heaven when we die. The New Testament, from the time that John the Baptist heralded the Messiah, spoke of the Kingdom of God coming to the earth, not of believers going to Heaven.
I do not know when the Gospel of Heaven began or how it began. It undoubtedly, as I suggested previously, resulted from the religion of Gnosticism.
Since Paul’s teaching can be warped to mean that how we behave in the flesh does not matter, which is akin to Gnostic teaching which stresses specialized knowledge (reminiscent of our present-day stress on professing Christ rather than behaving righteously), there may have been numerous Christian believers who converted to Gnosticism, believing it to be much the same religion Paul was teaching.
We need to rethink “Heaven.” First of all, the spirit world is a very large area, larger than we have any idea. All the dead from the beginning of the world are there.
In one part of this vast area is Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is referred to as Mount Zion. It is the place where God and Christ are, the holy angels, the spirits of righteous people: in short, all that we hope to find in “Heaven.”
Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, is the home of the elect, the Royal Priesthood. After the final resurrection of the dead, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend through the new sky and be installed forever upon the new earth.
The heavenly Jerusalem is the government of the Kingdom of God. The saints, who will rule from this holy city, will govern the nations of saved people on the new earth. The saved people from the nations will be subjects of the Kingdom of God in that they will be governed by saints who have inherited the Kingdom.
The Book of Hebrews tells us about the present condition of Mount Zion, of “Heaven” we might say:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
Revelation also tells us about the heavenly Jerusalem when it comes down to the new earth, although the description may be largely symbolic:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)
The above two passages tell us about Heaven. There are no mansions. The city is the government of the Kingdom of God and rules the nations of saved people who once were part of the nations of the earth.
The new Jerusalem, when it descends to the earth, may be composed of the resurrected and glorified bodies of the saints. I believe the trees of life are the saints in whom Jesus has been formed and is dwelling. Also, the River of Life is flowing from within the saints. The saints, holy ones, will govern the peoples of the new earth for eternity.
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38)
It is of interest that we already have come to Mount Zion, the Bible says. Our inward spiritual nature already is in Mount Zion, in Heaven. Paul says we are dead (referring to our body) and our life is hidden with Christ in God—that is, in Heaven. We already are there with all members of the Body of Christ.
The problem is our body. Actually we are not fighting our way upward but downward. God has given us this wonderful physical body, a possession not shared by any other creature of God, apparently. We, from our heavenly vantage point, are to put to death the actions of our body as it is driven by our sinful nature.
The prize is our body. The Christian fight of faith is to regain possession of our body!
But in the beginning we permitted Satan to advise us. In that day our body died, although it was not evident for a thousand years. Ever since then Satan has actively influenced our body. It is our own fault!
Now, through Jesus Christ, who Himself is the Resurrection and the Life, we have an opportunity to regain that which we forfeited in the beginning.
What does this mean in practical terms to us as we struggle along in our discipleship? It means that we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, that we might be ready to be resurrected and glorified, and to ascend to meet Him in the air. Christ will be poised in the air with the war stallions, waiting for us to rise to meet Him, mount a war stallion, and descend with Him to bring the Life of God to the dead creation and justice to the nations.
This is the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth, of which both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus spoke. We might note that all of the Lord’s parables are about the Kingdom of God, not about Heaven.
What does it means to prepare for the coming of Christ? It means to gain victory over our trust in the world, the lusts and passions of our flesh and spirit, and to set aside our own will and ambitions that we may learn to live by the Life of Jesus.
Notice that when the Apostle Paul speaks of our appearing with Jesus he immediately discusses our corrupt nature:
When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:4,5)
Since you are to appear with Christ, because of this, put to death the actions of your sinful nature. This is how we prepare ourselves to be resurrected when Jesus appears and to work with Him at the task of installing the Kingdom of God upon the earth; and at the task of preparing all the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem for their priestly ministry on the new earth.
Also, notice in the following passage the same need to prepare ourselves for His coming:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (I John 3:2,3)
In spite of such admonitions in the New Testament, the current Gospel of Heaven does not stress any need for preparation to go to Heaven when we die, except to “accept Christ.” Everything else is covered by “grace.”
And as for the unscriptural “rapture”? It is not included in the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is a modern-day delusion, so totally unscriptural and illogical as to be unworthy of scholarly pursuit.
Now that you have compared the two gospels, the Gospel of Heaven and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which of the two do you believe would best prepare us to accomplish God’s objectives?
You be the judge. As for me and my house, we believe the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the best plan for achieving God’s purposes, an essential aspect of which is our bodily resurrection unto eternal life.
(“John 3:16 Refers to Bodily Immortality”, 3123-1)