Concerning resurrection, those who ask the above question receive a curt rejoinder from Paul, “Thou fool!” (1 Cor.15:36) However, it is instructive to follow through the Pauline sequence at this juncture. Significant truth is revealed, and seldom appreciated in its fullness. These are his words.
“That which you sow is not made alive unless it die, and that which you sow, you sow not the body that shall be but naked grain, it may chance of wheat or some other variety; but God gives it a body as He has purposed, and to each of the seeds its own body. [Now he changes the symbolism.] Not all flesh is the same flesh, there is one kind of the flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds. [And yet again he changes the symbolism.] Also, there are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies, and the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the Sun, another glory of the Moon, and another glory of the Stars, and Star differs from Star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
One can read these words again and again and yet fail to appreciate the essence of what Paul is driving at. He has “mixed his metaphors”, yes, but the truth is still apparent. To put it in a nutshell – there are two distinct orders of resurrection, earthly, andheavenly. Both are “glorious”.
The second fact that calls for our attention is the subdivision of these two orders. EARTHLY RESURRECTION – a fourfold division, “man, beast, fish, and bird.” HEAVENLY RESURRECTION – a threefold division, “Sun, Moon and Stars.” Hence there are in total SEVEN DISTINCT SUB-ORDERS OF RESURRECTION. This is seldom taught, and little understood. Most people, when asked about this passage, would respond in terms of just ONE resurrection, where God’s children are transported from earth to heaven, there to be with Christ for ever more. This simplistic concept could not be further from the truth, and it is necessary to be “brought down to earth with a jolt” to rethink the whole issue of resurrection.
The Pauline symbols, (man, beast, fish, bird, Sun, Moon, Stars) should not be analysed definitively, but appreciated apart from the symbolism. Paul was not saying that some people would become birds or fishes in resurrection, nor yet actual stars! Each sub-order is glorious in itself, but differing in glory from the rest. Furthermore, there is a wide difference between earthly orders and heavenly orders. Paul’s choice of symbols is sufficient to reinforce this distinction.
Once the whole concept is stated and given deeper consideration, it brings enlightenment to other parts of Scripture that have hitherto been puzzling. Take for example the Master’s words to the Sadducees in Luke 20. He said, “Those who are accounted worthy of resurrection will be equal to the angels.” This unlocks the symbolism of “Sun, Moon, and Stars”, the realm of the angels, the “heavenly” order of resurrection. Some therefore will be “caught up to God and His throne” like the manchild of Rev.12.
Paul himself (in Phil 3) speaks about the necessity of striving for “the high calling of God”, rather than tacitly assuming that everyone will suddenly be whisked away to heaven. “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” comes also from the pen of Paul. But he warns, “if we deny Him [the suffering], He will also deny us [the reign.]”
In respect of the parables of talents and pounds, we are told that the “overcomers” will be placed in charge of varying numbers of cities. This also relates to heavenly rulership. The 12 disciples, who said, “We have left everything and followedYou. What shall we get?” were told, “In the regeneration . . . you shall sit upon 12 thrones judging [i.e. ruling] the 12 tribes ofIsrael.” A heavenly-based task, yes, but the out-working of which is upon the earth.
The symbols of the Sun, Moon, and Stars are found again in Revelation 12. The woman is clothed with the Sun, has the Moon beneath her feet, and is crowned by a tiara of 12 stars. The chapter goes on to explain that the Manchild (who shall rule all nations with a rod of iron) is the Sun, the woman is the Moon, and the “rest of her seed” are the Stars.
Paul uses this symbol in 1 Cor.3 where he speaks of Gold, Silver, and Precious Stones. The Gold is the figure of the Sun, the 1st phase, Silver is the symbol of the Moon, the 2nd phase, and the Precious Stones are the Stars, the 3rd phase, and “star differs from star in glory.” Those who only achieve wood, hay and stubble in their building are disallowed in the heavenly orders, and partake of the earthly resurrection.
Jesus referred to the three phases when He spoke in parable of the woman who put the yeast into “three measures of meal” until all was leavened. God’s work within His people is here likened to the yeast, which is allowed to continue until the process of preparation is complete.
Daniel was given a vision of a beast with “three ribs in its mouth”, the word “rib” being the Chaldee equivalent of the Hebrew word for rib, the one taken from Adam to form Eve. Hence the three phases of the elect church, the “Second Eve,” the “Bride of Christ”, endure much suffering under the Satanic beasts. No doubt there are other hidden allusions in the Bible to all these things for those who enjoy searching.
However, not all aspire to these higher realms save those who are “called, chosen, and faithful.” Not all reach the position of the “overcomers” mentioned by our Lord in the seven letters of Revelation. However, they are saved by the blood of the Lamb, and will receive a glorious resurrection into an earthly body like that of Adam and Eve before the fall.
The four earthly orders of resurrection are found hidden in Isaiah 60, once the Pauline clue is understood from 1st Corinthians. The chapter opens with the “manifestation of the sons of God”, whose light shines in the surrounding darkness. The result is a voluminous conversion of peoples, set out in figurative language, as follows –
1. Sons and daughters. (Man)
2. The abundance of the sea. (Fish)
3. Camels, flocks and rams. (Beasts)
4. Doves. (Birds)
Once God has obtained His chosen company of faithful, from all nations, and from all time, He begins to reach out to “the residue of men”. The Gospel is not just for the benefit of the remnant of faithful souls, but ultimately for all mankind, even those who have been “passed by” over the centuries, never having had the opportunity of knowing about Jesus and His love. This is the greater, more expansive aspect of God’s work, in which Jesus will be glorified. The Man of Agony at Calvary, the Son of Man who “endured the cross” will gradually lead the hosts of mankind in triumph as they turn to Him. The “joy that was set before Him” enabled our Lord to suffer on behalf of all, that all may ultimately be saved. His Father will rejoice. The cross was not in vain. There is no disappointment in heaven. Ultimately “every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” not by coercion, but by glad surrender and submission.
As that tower of human energy, the singer Al Jolson, used to say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” The Millennial glories are still beyond the wildest imagination of God’s saints. And the time is near!
But here is a word of warning before we finish – let no one pre-judge this issue in respect of their own position in the future government of this world. Although it is right and proper to “strive for masteries”, the final outcome must remain with the Lord.Humility demands that we take the lowest seats at the “Marriage Supper”, and allow the Bridegroom to say “Come up higher” if in His estimation He considers our “worthiness” justifies it.