The topic of the resurrection is always of fascination, and controversy. Most Christians today believe that when the Bible talks about "the body" or "the flesh" that it is using those terms to speak of a human body of flesh and blood. Nothing could be further from the truth, but, because of this misconception, the great majority of Christendom misconstrues Biblical eschatology.
We are proud to present to our readers and excellent article on the topic of "Flesh and Blood" by an excellent student of the Word, Jerel Kratt. I think that you will greatly profit from his excellent insights.
For His Truth, And In His Grace,
Don K. Preston
“Flesh and Blood”, by Jerel Kratt
When Paul writes about “flesh and blood” not being able to inherit the kingdom of God, what does he mean? The purpose of this essay is to explore this question and hopefully present some answers. A natural part of this question would also involve answering the question, “what is the kingdom of God?” I will not set out to answer that question here, presuming that the reader will have some background already on the “kingdom of God”; I only wish to discuss the concept of “flesh and blood”. Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 15. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture will be from Young’s Literal Translation.
1 Cor 15:50-57 YLT And this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood the reign of God is not able to inherit, nor doth the corruption inherit the incorruption; (51) lo, I tell you a secret; we indeed shall not all sleep, and we all shall be changed; (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the last trumpet, for it shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we–we shall be changed: (53) for it behoveth this corruptible to put on incorruption, and this mortal to put on immortality; (54) and when this corruptible may have put on incorruption, and this mortal may have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that hath been written, `The Death was swallowed up–to victory; (55) where, O Death, thy sting? where, O Hades, thy victory?’ (56) and the sting of the death is the sin, and the power of the sin the law; (57) and to God–thanks, to Him who is giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ;
First, what comes to my mind is what Jesus told “Nic at night”:
John 3:3-12 YLT Jesus answered and said to him, `Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born from above, he is not able to see the reign of God;’ (4) Nicodemus saith unto him, `How is a man able to be born, being old? is he able into the womb of his mother a second time to enter, and to be born?’ (5) Jesus answered, `Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born of water, and the Spirit, he is not able to enter into the reign of God; (6) that which hath been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which hath been born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) `Thou mayest not wonder that I said to thee, It behoveth you to be born from above; (8) the Spirit where he willeth doth blow, and his voice thou dost hear, but thou hast not known whence he cometh, and whither he goeth; thus is every one who hath been born of the Spirit.’ (9) Nicodemus answered and said to him, `How are these things able to happen?’ (10) Jesus answered and said to him, `Thou art the teacher of Israel–and these things thou dost not know! (11) `Verily, verily, I say to thee–What we have known we speak, and what we have seen we testify, and our testimony ye do not receive; (12) if the earthly things I said to you, and ye do not believe, how, if I shall say to you the heavenly things, will ye believe?
It is interesting to me that Jesus, like Paul, tells us of the necessity to change from the fleshly to the spiritual, or from the “earthly” to the “heavenly”. Of course, few people I know apply John 3 to the resurrection of 1 Cor. 15; it is typically applied to one’s “entrance” into the spiritual kingdom, upon their baptism into Christ, or so we are told. So, for some apparent reason, being born “not of the flesh but of the Spirit” in John 3 puts us into the kingdom of God (the church), but being transformed “from the fleshly to the spiritual” in 1 Cor. 15 puts us into the kingdom of God (heaven, not the church). Does anyone other than me see a problem here?
Now, please compare John 3:12 above with what Paul earlier said in 1 Cor. 15:
1 Cor 15:47-49 YLT The first man is out of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord out of heaven; (48) as is the earthy, such are also the earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are also the heavenly; (49) and, according as we did bear the image of the earthy, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly.
There seems to me to be a strong correlation between the two texts. Is Paul talking about leaving the biological body in order to enter the kingdom of God? Is that what Jesus was teaching? Didn’t he chide Nicodemus for being too literal, too physical, too biological? Didn’t he tell him, “you are a teacher of Israel, you should know these things?” Meaning, you have studied the prophets, you should know what they are saying, that they are not talking about a biological resurrection but a resurrection out of sin-death!
Let’s see if some of what Paul says in Romans about “the flesh” now fits in with this picture we’ve seen in John 3 and 1 Cor. 15:
Rom 6:23-7:5 YLT for the wages of the sin is death, and the gift of God is life age-during in Christ Jesus our Lord. (7:1) Are ye ignorant, brethren–for to those knowing law I speak–that the law hath lordship over the man as long as he liveth? (2) for the married woman to the living husband hath been bound by law, and if the husband may die, she hath been free from the law of the husband; (3) so, then, the husband being alive, an adulteress she shall be called if she may become another man’s; and if the husband may die, she is free from the law, so as not to be an adulteress, having become another man’s. (4) So that, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of the Christ, for your becoming another’s, who out of the dead was raised up, that we might bear fruit to God; (5) for when we were in the flesh, the passions of the sins, that are through the law, were working in our members, to bear fruit to the death;
Let’s notice a couple of important things here. First, Paul connects the Law in 7:1f with “the sin” and “
the death”. I find it interesting that Paul says the Law has jurisdiction over a man as long as that man is alive. We know that the Law had not ended yet by the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans (see Heb. 8:13; Matt. 5:17-18). He is telling these brothers in Rome that when they were baptized into Christ, they themselves died to the Law. But, this presents a problem, for Paul says that the Law still has “lordship” as long as a person lives. What does he mean? Before we answer that, let’s look at another point. Paul in verse 5 says “when we were in the flesh”. Now that is quite a statement! What do you mean, Paul? That they left their biological bodies? That can’t be true. Somehow we are coming back to “Nic at night” and his struggle with biological flesh coming through the womb again. Well, it’s not that difficult when we stop looking through our physical lens and see the spiritual reality. Paul was saying that they needed to consider or “reckon” themselves as dead to the Law. He connects “the flesh”, “the passions of the sins”, with “through the Law”, which was “working in their members”, producing “death”.
But, how in the world could they consider themselves dead to the Law when the Law still has standing (Heb. 8:13), and alive to Christ when Christ hadn’t returned yet to complete to atonement process for salvation and eternal life (see Heb. 9)? If they died to the Law upon their baptism, in what way did the Law have “lordship” over them? It seems that Paul anticipated this response and so he delved into some meaty things concerning the work of the Holy Spirit and adoption to answer this anticipated question. My question to you is, can we see Paul’s use of “flesh” as pertaining to dead works of the Law, to which they need to present themselves as “dead”? Notice:
Rom 8:1-8 YLT There is, then, now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit; (2) for the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus did set me free from the law of the sin and of the death; (3) for what the law was not able to do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, His own Son having sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, did condemn the sin in the flesh, (4) that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (5) For those who are according to the flesh, the things of the flesh do mind; and those according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit; (6) for the mind of the flesh is death, and the mind of the Spirit–life and peace; (7) because the mind of the flesh is enmity to God, for to the law of God it doth not subject itself, (8) for neither is it able; and those who are in the flesh are not able to please God.
Let’s stop here for a moment. What do you mean, Paul, that those in the flesh are not able to please God? You mean, us human beings can never please God, until we are out of our biological “tombs”? How does this thinking comport with Scripture? How does it comport with Jesus and Nic at night? The Hebrew writer tells us that…
Heb 11:5-6 YLT “By faith Enoch was translated–not to see death, and was not found, because God did translate him; for before his translation he had been testified to–that he had pleased God well, (6) and apart from faith it is impossible to please well, for it behoveth him who is coming to God to believe that He is, and to those seeking Him He becometh a rewarder.”
It seems pretty clear to me that it is by faith, and not by works of the flesh, that made a person pleasing to God. Isn’t that the whole point of this discussion of “the flesh” in Romans? Well, let’s return to Romans and see:
Rom 8:9-15 YLT And ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God doth dwell in you; and if any one hath not the Spirit of Christ–this one is not His; (10) and if Christ is in you, the body, indeed, is dead because of sin, and the Spirit is life because of righteousness, (11) and if the Spirit of Him who did raise up Jesus out of the dead doth dwell in you, He who did raise up the Christ out of the dead shall quicken also your dying bodies, through His Spirit dwelling in you. (12) So, then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; (13) for if according to the flesh ye do live, ye are about to die; and if, by the Spirit, the deeds of the body ye put to death, ye shall live;
I think it important to note at this point that Paul said if they continue to live according to the flesh (which I understand as being according to works of the Law) they were “about to die”. They were “already dead” in the sense that they were held in bondage to “the Law” and “the sin” (cf. Romans 5), but yet they were “made alive” because of Christ. Is this a dichotomy? Is this contradictory? No, I believe Paul is saying, “Don’t return back to works of the Law! If you do, you forfeit your adoption, the one that is coming soon at Christ’s parousia!” Recall in chapter 7:1 that Paul said he was addressing folks who knew the Law. With that in mind, let us continue in Romans:
Rom 8:14 YLT for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God; (15) for ye did not receive a spirit of bondage again for fear, but ye did receive a spirit of adoption in which we cry, `Abba–Father.’
What does Paul mean that they did not receive “again” a spirit of bondage? Clearly the “spirit of adoption” was not like the “spirit of bondage”. But, what would have been a previous “spirit of bondage” that this new spirit of adoption was not like at all? Any guesses? Maybe it’s this:
Rom 7:6 YLT and now we have ceased from the law, that being dead in which we were held, so that we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
Clearly, the “bondage” that is in view is bondage of the soul to “the sin” and “the death” because of “the Law”.
Let’s go back to the concept of adoption. Why was adoption so important to Paul? Let’s see:
Rom 8:16-21 YLT The Spirit himself doth testify with our spirit, that we are children of God; (17) and if children, also heirs, heirs, indeed, of God, and heirs together of Christ–if, indeed, we suffer together, that we may also be glorified together.&nbs
p; (18) For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us; (19) for the earnest looking out of the creation doth expect the revelation of the sons of God; (20) for to vanity was the creation made subject–not of its will, but because of Him who did subject it –in hope, (21) that also the creation itself shall be set free from the servitude of the corruption to the liberty of the glory of the children of God;
Again, here is a reference to “servitude”, which I believe is in reference to “works”, to “the flesh”; to “the sin”; to “the Law”; to all these concepts Paul has been writing about! Serving under the Law, under any law which condemned man, but especially under “the Law” which made sin utterly sinful, is laboring to futility or vanity. It could not perfect the worshipper! Earlier Paul had said that Christ came in the flesh and condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3f). I think it important to note that Jesus was born under the Law (Gal. 4:4), and so he, being under that Law, must obey it perfectly, and must do so “in the flesh”. When he lived under the Law perfectly, he became the “vehicle” if you will by which the penalty of “the Law” would be taken away, for those who enter into his covenant by the means of his death which was to “the sin” and “the Law”. And this being so, Paul could exclaim:
Rom 8:22-23 YLT for we have known that all the creation doth groan together, and doth travail in pain together till now. (23) And not only so, but also we ourselves, having the first-fruit of the Spirit, we also ourselves in ourselves do groan, adoption expecting–the redemption of our body;
First, the reader is encouraged to recall that Paul earlier in Romans 8:14 said that they had been adopted by the Spirit. Yet, here he says they were still expecting the adoption. How can this be? The way I see it is that the full adoption had not been completed yet; that is, the “dead ones” of Israel were in the process of being raised (based on the present passive indicative verb tenses of 1 Cor. 15:35ff which shows that the body was “being raised” while Paul was speaking). The “raising” that was underway wasn’t completed yet and wouldn’t be completed yet until the power of sin (the Law) was taken away. The folks Paul is writing to in Romans would be “glorified” with the dead ones of Israel at Christ’s parousia.
Second, I think it is important to realize in the above text that “travailing in pain” is not referring to life as a human in biological flesh. It is referring to servitude or futility under the Law. This is a reference from Isa. 26 and refers to Israel:
Isa 26:17-19 NKJV As a woman with child Is in pain and cries out in her pangs, When she draws near the time of her delivery, So have we been in Your sight, O LORD. (18) We have been with child, we have been in pain; We have, as it were, brought forth wind; We have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen. (19) Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead.
It’s so important to note that the redemption of the body has everything to do with redemption from servitude under the Law, the home of “the sin” and “the death”. This is resurrection from “the death”! No wonder Paul could cry out that the resurrection would occur…
1 Cor 15:54-56 YLT and when this corruptible may have put on incorruption, and this mortal may have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that hath been written, `The Death was swallowed up–to victory; (55) where, O Death, thy sting? where, O Hades, thy victory?’ (56) and the sting of the death is the sin, and the power of the sin the law;
It could not be any clearer, when seen in the correct context, that the redemption of “the body”, i.e. the setting free “from corruption”, that Paul was looking forward to, would not occur when he finally died a biological death and escaped his biological tomb, but would occur when the sting of “the death” is taken away, when its power is taken away, which is none other than THE LAW! The sting of “the death” is “the sin” of Adam, which was made utterly powerful by the Law of Moses, which was completely taken away at the parousia of Christ in 70 AD, completely fulfilling all the Law and Prophets. This irrefutably proves that the “redemption of the body” that Paul keeps referring to happened at the end of the old covenant, the complete fulfillment of everything to which the Law and the Prophets looked forward, the hope of Israel! When “the law” was taken fully out of the way, then “the death” was fully taken away for those in Christ to whom Paul wrote.
Since this happened at the parousia in 70 AD, this must require a definition of “the death” as sin-death or spiritual death, not biological death, for two reasons: (1) clearly biological death did not cease for the believer at the parousia, since all men still die that death, even though the Scriptures clearly teach that “the death” would be taken away at the parousia; and (2) the prophets clearly teach that “the death” that Israel hoped to be resurrected from was “sin death”, from violation of the covenant, bringing upon them the death of Adam. Notice what the prophet Hosea said concerning Israel, death, and resurrection:
Hos 6:7 YLT And they, as Adam, transgressed a covenant, There they dealt treacherously against me.
Hos 13:1-3 YLT When Ephraim speaketh tremblingly, He hath been lifted up in Israel, When he becometh guilty in Baal he dieth. (2) And now do they add to sin, And make to them a molten image of their silver, By their own understanding–idols, A work of artisans–all of it, Of them they say, who are sacrificers among men, `The calves let them kiss.’ (3) Therefore they are as a cloud of the morning, And as dew, rising early, going away, As chaff tossed about out of a floor, And as smoke out of a window.
Israel’s sin, their idolatry, was a violation of the covenant, and brought the death of Adam. This death was not a biological death, it was sin-death, and would result in their “exile” from “the land”. But there was hope for Israel:
Hos 13:12-14 YLT Bo
und up is the iniquity of Ephraim, Hidden is his sin, (13) Pangs of a travailing woman come to him, He is a son not wise, For he remaineth not the time for the breaking forth of sons. (14) From the hand of Sheol I do ransom them, From death I redeem them, Where is thy plague, O death? Where thy destruction, O Sheol? Repentance is hid from Mine eyes.
To conclude our discussion of “the flesh”, we need to continue just a little bit further into Romans to bring this all together.
Rom 9:1-5 YLT Truth I say in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing testimony with me in the Holy Spirit, (2) that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart– (3) for I was wishing, I myself, to be anathema from the Christ–for my brethren, my kindred, according to the flesh, (4) who are Israelites, whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the lawgiving, and the service, and the promises, (5) whose are the fathers, and of whom is the Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed to the ages. Amen.
When Paul thinks of “the flesh”, what does he think of? “Biological tombs” that only receive a deliverance or redemption upon their physical death? There certainly is something here in connection with biological flesh and blood, since there was a biological “procreation” or “reproduction” that happened in order to bring about this nation of Israel; but, as we saw before in Hebrews 11, it’s not the actual flesh and blood that is the inherent problem, it is striving after works of the flesh, works of the Law, like Israel was doing, being subjected to futility.
But, even more important is to whom Paul says the adoption belonged: Israel! The adoption belonged to them! Of course, only those of Israel by faith would receive the adoption (cf. Rom. 9:6ff), but Paul unequivocally states that “the creation” (Rom. 8) that was eagerly awaiting the “adoption” was not planet earth, the rocks, trees, birds, and the creepy-crawlies, but was Israel!
So, when Paul discusses “flesh” to the Romans, I think he specifically has Israel in mind. If flesh was simply “humanity”, then the phrase “my kindred according to the flesh” would have no particular meaning at all because it would include the Gentiles and all men under that definition of “flesh”! No, “according to the flesh” means according to the people (Israel) subjected to futility through servitude to the Law.
In saying this, I do not mean that Paul’s use of “the flesh” only has its meaning in the people of Israel; what I mean is that it became fully manifested in Israel through their Law and their “earthly”, “physical”, and “fleshly” shadows of the true spiritual reality. I fully believe this “futility” to the “earthly” began with the sin of Adam, with his sin-death and exile from the “land” (garden), and so this being true Paul could say…
Rom 5:12-14 YLT …even as through one man the sin did enter into the world, and through the sin the death; and thus to all men the death did pass through, for that all did sin; (13) for till law sin was in the world: and sin is not reckoned when there is not law; (14) but the death did reign from Adam till Moses, even upon those not having sinned in the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of him who is coming.
Knowing, as we do, that Christ “came” just as he promised in “their” generation, can we now rejoice and exclaim like Paul…
1 Cor 15:57 NKJV But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.