“[Christ] shall change our vile body,
that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body…”
— Philippians 3:21
Having once again, during the holy Lenten season, reviewed and examined in detail the vicarious atonement of our Savior in His great passion, we not only witnessed in the Scriptures what all He bore and suffered in our place and in our stead to be “the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2); but we also gratefully observed the fruit of His redemptive work in reconciling us unto God by His death (Romans 5:10). Knowing as we do “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” toward us, manifested in His state of humiliation (II Corinthians 8:9), and beholding in the Gospel what great things God wrought for us and for our salvation, “in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19), how can we sufficiently thank Him for rescuing us poor mortals “from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil” (Luther; Hebrews 2:14-15)? Yea, how can we sufficiently thank Him for making us His own dear children and heirs of everlasting life by bringing us to that saving faith whereby we lay hold on the blessings of redemption (I Timothy 6:12), have peace with God (Romans 5:1), and rejoice in His salvation (Psalm 51:12)?
Moreover, having just recently celebrated the mighty resurrection of our Savior from the dead — the miracle of miracles that sealed to us those blessings and gave us the assurance that our faith in Him is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:14, 17, 20a) — we enjoy its fourfold comfort from what it definitely proves, namely, that the risen Christ is truly the Son of God, that His doctrine is the truth, that God the Father accepted His Son’s sacrifice as payment in full for the world’s reconciliation unto Himself, and that all true believers will rise in their very own glorified bodies to everlasting life on the Last Day (Cf. 1943 Catechism, Q/A 152).
It is the last comfort in particular upon which we focus in this present article, as we consider the risen Christ as the prototype of our own resurrection, “who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). The fourth comfort actually hinges upon the first three; for if Christ were not indeed the very Son of God, if His Word were not absolutely true and reliable, and if His vicarious atonement had not been sufficient for the world’s redemption, then He, as a mere man, helpless to help even Himself, would be helpless to help us and helpless to effect our resurrection from the dead. Let us therefore examine those first three comforts to see how they are essential to the fourth.
Jesus is truly the Son of God. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). —As the Son of God, Christ had fully participated with the Father and the Holy Ghost in the creation of the world, including that of mankind: “By Him [Christ] were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16). “And the Lord God [the Triune God] formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). —But, even after our first parents flagrantly disobeyed Him, God did not cut us off in His wrath and destroy His creation: “He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14), physically the material from which He made us in the beginning. Instead “[He preserveth] man and beast” (Psalm 36:6), “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). —And, at the time of temporal death, when the breath of life departs from the body, “all go unto one place; all are of the dust [even the animals, cf. Genesis 2:19], and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God, who gave it” (12:7). —Nevertheless the Bible teaches that, on the Last Day, Christ Himself will re-create from our “dust” the same bodies which died and decayed in the earth. Job testifies: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the Latter Day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself; and mine eyes shall behold and not another, though my reins [all my vital organs] be consumed within me” (Job 19:26 and 27). “Martha saith unto [Jesus]: ‘I know that he [her brother Lazarus] shall rise again in the resurrection at the Last Day’ (John 11:24). Jesus said unto her: ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (v. 25). “[Christ] shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:21). “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). These and many other passages show conclusively that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who, as such, is our Creator, our Preserver, and our mighty Resurrector from the dead, “[who] is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 2:20), including the resurrection of our bodies from the dust of decay to life everlasting in heaven.
Christ’s doctrine is the truth. For this doctrinal point in our Catechism (CPH, St. Louis, 1943, Q/A 152b), we find as the single proof passage John 2:19, where Jesus says: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” and thus prophesies His own act of resurrecting His own body. “When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (v. 22). His enemies believed it as well and cited it to Pilate as justification for the sealing of His tomb and for the assignment of a detail of soldiers to guard it (Matthew 27:63). But in other passages as well, Jesus clearly testified of His resurrection from the dead well in advance of Easter morning. We note, for example, His reference to His resurrection in Matthew 17:9 following His transfiguration before Peter, James and John (cf. Mark 9:9). It was the “sign” of His Messiahship which He gave to the Scribes and Pharisees, comparing His resurrection to the re-appearance of Jonah after “three days and three nights in the whale’s belly” (Matthew 12:38-40). It was the triumphant victory over death after His great passion, which He foretold specifically on many occasions to His disciples (Matthew 20:19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Luke 18:33; 24:7) before He suffered, died and was buried. By His mighty resurrection, He proved His statements to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and proved as well that ALL of His Word is the truth (John 8:31-32), a fact which is of immeasurable and lasting comfort to us Christians.
Christ’s Vicarious Atonement was accepted by the Father as the all-sufficient sacrifice for the world’s redemption and reconciliation. “If Christ be NOT raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ [who died confiding in Him as their Redeemer] are perished. …But now IS Christ risen from the dead…” (I Corinthians 15:17-18, 20a). The Apostle Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, noted that Jesus had been “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” in eternity already (cf. Revelation 13:8) to be “crucified and slain” by the Jews (Acts 2:23), and that the Father raised Him up (vv. 24 and 32), according to the prophecy of David (Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:31), as evidence that He had made “that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). God “highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9) because of [“wherefore”] His perfect active and passive obedience in His state of humiliation (v. 8) and made it clear by raising Him from the dead that Jesus of Nazareth is not only true God (“Lord”) but also the Anointed One (“Christ”), “the Holy One of Israel, [its] Savior” (Isaiah 43:3a), who successfully completed and accomplished (“finished,” John 19:30) the work of redemption which His Father had sent Him to do (John 17:4; 18:11). God the Father “raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead,” writes the Apostle Paul in Romans 4:24-25, “who was delivered for [literally, on account of] our offenses” —compare Isaiah 53:5-6, 8c— “and was raised again for [literally, on account of] our justification” —compare II Corinthians 5:19, 21. God the Father did not raise from the dead and validate the redemptive work of a failure, of a pretender, of a propitiation-wannabe!! He raised His only-begotten Son, who is “the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2), the Sacrifice that rendered to God on behalf of and in the stead of all mankind perfect satisfaction of divine justice, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21b).
Now, as to Christ’s ability to raise the dead and to glorify the bodies of those who will not yet have died when the Last Day occurs, we should recognize, first of all, that Christ, even in His state of humiliation, though He “did not always and not fully use the divine attributes communicated to His human nature” (Catechism Q/A 134), had the power to do so (John 5:21) and indeed used that power on several occasions recorded in the Scriptures “that [we] might believe” (John 20:31): He raised the young man of Nain (Luke 7:11ff.), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:22-24, 35ff. and Luke 8:41-42, 49ff.), and Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:1ff.). In John 5:21, the Savior Himself refers to that power and His will to exercise it at His own good pleasure, saying: “As the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.” And, with specific reference to the Last Day and to the resurrection of all flesh, Jesus said of Himself: “The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth” (vv. 28-29a) …as Lazarus “came forth” at Jesus’ call (John 11:44), as the daughter of Jairus “arose and walked” at Jesus’ bidding (Mark 5:42), as the young man at Nain “sat up and began to speak” at Jesus’ command (Luke 7:15).
Indeed, “all…shall come forth;” but the resurrection of unbelievers will not be an event in which they can even now rejoice with grateful anticipation (as is the resurrection of believers); for Jesus speaks of it as “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). Their “vile body” will remain just that, a vile body that will not be “changed,” a body of “corruption” that will not be raised in “incorruption,” a body “sown in dishonor” that will not be “raised in glory” in contrast to the change that will occur in the resurrection of all true believers (I Corinthians 15:42-44). For Isaiah writes of the perpetual, horrific state of the unbelievers: “Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).
But, with respect to true believers, Christ’s resurrection definitely proves that, on the Last Day, they will rise from the dead with glorified bodies to everlasting life in heaven (Cf. Catechism Q/A 152D and 196A). “Because I live, ye shall live also,” He promised His disciples (John 14:19). Again, Job testifies: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the Latter Day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself; and mine eyes shall behold and not another, though my reins [all my vital organs] be consumed within me” (Job 19:26 and 27). And St. Paul, writing about those who had died confiding in Christ as their Savior (cf. I Corinthians 15:18; I Thessalonians 4:16; etc.), says: “The dead shall be raised incorruptible” (I Corinthians 15:52). Moreover, tying Christ’s resurrection in His glorified body to the resurrection of believers in their glorified bodies, Paul writes in our title-text: “[Christ] shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). This is precisely what is meant by the term “firstfruits” in I Corinthians 15:20, 23. In the context of the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” (I Thessalonians 4:16b), the Savior in His resurrection is the prototype or one-of-a-kind master-model according to which all true believers shall rise, so that their very own bodies, the very bodies which had died, though “[their] dust [had] return[ed] to the earth as it was” (Ecclesiastes 12:7a), “though [their] reins [had been] consumed within [them]” (Job 19:27b), shall be “made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22) and “fashioned like unto His glorious body.”
Although this great “hope” (i.e. anticipation, expectation) is ours, according to the Scriptures, not “in this life only” (I Corinthians 15:19), it is our comfort already “in this life” as we joyfully anticipate the second visible advent of our Savior on the Last Day. For then “we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:15) shall undergo the change in our vile bodies that the blessed dead, “them which are asleep,” will have experienced at their resurrection. For St. Paul writes further in I Corinthians 15: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; and we shall be changed” (vv. 51-52).
All of this wonderful comfort goes back to Christ’s triumphant resurrection from the dead; for “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable! But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept!” (I Corinthians 15:17-20). Because of what His resurrection definitely proves about Him, and according to His promise to all true believers, “[Christ] shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21a); for the glorification of His body is the prototype of our own.
I am flesh and must return
unto dust, whence I am taken.
But by faith I now discern
that from death I shall awaken
with my Savior to abide
in His glory, at His side.
Glorified, I shall anew
with this flesh then be enshrouded;
in this body I shall view
God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;
in this flesh I then shall see
Jesus Christ eternally!
(TLH 206, 4-5)
— D. T. M.