The Resurrection of the Dead
July 28th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-28-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas expounding the thirty-seventh chapter of the prophet Ezekiel and if you will turn in your Holy Scriptures to the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 37, I read the first ten verses [Ezekiel 37:1-10]. Ezekiel 37, beginning at the first verse:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
And He caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
And the Lord said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, I don’t know O Lord, only Thou knowest.
Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live…
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to bone.
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but they were dead corpses there was no breath in them.
Then said the Lord unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
In any literature, in any language, a dramatic revelation like that would be unforgettable. And how much more unto us who see in it revelations, deep, abiding, eternal of the word, and will, and purpose of the Almighty God.
The background of this vision is very plain. Ezekiel was a captive, carried away from the priesthood in Jerusalem when he was about thirty years of age—carried as a slave in Chaldea, into ancient Babylon. The incursions and the invading armies of the Babylonians were easily marked. They left their tragedy of destruction and death behind them. Through every valley through which they passed, there was horror and terror. The slain were innumerable. There was hardly one left behind to bury those who had died. And the vultures from the sky ate the flesh. And the wolves from the mountains tore the bodies. And the hot sun bleached the bones until they were white. And the heat of the summer dried them until they were very dry—very many and very dry. And as the prophet Ezekiel looks over that typical valley of the slain, and the dead, and the bleached, and the whitened, God asks an amazing and strange question: “Can these dry bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3].
When the Lord Jesus said of the daughter of Jairus, “this daughter, this girl, this child shall live again,” they laughed Him to scorn, for she was dead [Luke 8: 52-53]. How much more the incredulity of those who would listen to the question of God, “Can these bones live? [Ezekiel 37:3] There is not even a corpse! There is nothing but scattered disjointed bones, not even a skeleton—and can they live?
The dramatic answer from heaven is the message from God for us today. As we read through the Scriptures—the deep, and abiding, and manifold revelations that God has for us in His Holy Word is almost illimitable—not just one primary message will you find when you read the Holy Scriptures, but there will be other, and sometimes deeper, revelations in the same passage. It is fraught, and overlaid, and laden with deep spiritual meaning.
So with this dramatic vision [Ezekiel 37:1-10], and out of many of the revelations of God for us in it, I chose four. Number one: the primary revelation, namely, the resurrection, and the rebirth, and the reconstruction, and the restatement of the kingdom of Israel in their own land, the rebirth of the nation of the people of God [Isaiah 66:8]. Number two: the partial fulfillment, and immediate fulfillment of the vision in the restoration of some of the people of Israel to their land under governor Zerubbabel and the priest Ezra [Ezra 1-3]. Number three: it is a picture and a parable of the resurrection from the dead. The raising of God’s people from the graves into which, if the Lord delays His coming, they inevitably and inexorably fall. And number four: the resurrection of the spirit of the man, the rebirth of the soul, the regeneration of the life of the man under the power of the Holy Spirit in the gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Hosea 6:2].
Number one: we begin with the primary meaning of the revelation and of the vision; the resurrection, and the restoration, and the rebuilding of the nation of Israel in their own land [Ezekiel 37:21]. It is hard for us to enter into the abysmal and vast destruction that the Chaldeans wrought upon Jerusalem and Judah [2 Kings 25:8-21]. The destruction of the temple meant, for the people, they had lost their access to God. They approached God in the place where He said: “My name shall be there” [2 Chronicles 7:16]. And in that holy temple was the altar of sacrifice, and the Holy of Holies, and the chamber of intercession and mediation where the high priest bore the sins of the people and sprinkled the blood of atonement [Leviticus 16:14], that they might live, that they might know; that they might approach the living and mighty God.
All of that has been destroyed. There is no more temple; there’s no more altar; there’s no more sacrifice; there’s no more Holy of Holies; there’s no more sanctuary and there’s no longer any priest. The priest, as the prince, has been carried a slave and sold on the open markets of Babylon.
The destruction of the nation seemed to be everlastingly final. There is no longer any Hezekiah or Josiah to represent the great and mighty God. The lord and ruler of all the earth is a pagan, idolatrous monarch by the name of Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 1:1-2]. And in that land of Judah, that he wasted, the rubble was immense and seemingly immeasurable. A while later, when Nehemiah visited the sacred city, his beast could hardly wind its way through the rubble and the debris–the burnt gates of the city, the torn down walls and the destruction of the sanctuary. So much that the great prime minister Nehemiah could not keep his heart from breaking and his eyes from dissolving in tears [Nehemiah 1:3-4; 2:13-14].
The Lord God asks, in the midst of such vast destruction and death: “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3]. The question is not raised by Ezekiel—he would never think to ask it. The question would never be raised by us—it would never occur to us that they would be raised and live again. The question comes from God: “Son of man, can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3]. And the answer lies in the omnipotence of the Almighty who reigns over this earth. “Can this nation of Israel ever be reborn, reconstituted, regenerated, resurrected—can it?” And Ezekiel, stumbling before the enormity of any such possibility, answered: “Lord, I do not know. You alone could know [Ezekiel 37:3]. You alone could reconstitute, and rebuild, and reinstate, and resurrect this lost, and fallen, and enslaved nation.”
And the rest of what God has done lies in the prophecies that continue to the end to the forty-eighth chapter and lies in the study of history before us. I spoke of it last Sunday. I shall speak of it in these messages of the immediate Sundays before us—the nation of Israel regenerated, and resurrected, and reinstated in their own land by the power and purpose of the living God—and will be here when Jesus comes again [Daniel 9:26-27; Revelation 12:6].
Number two: the resurrection of the dead; this is a picture, and a parable, and a promise of the resurrection of our dead bodies from the depths of the graves into which we inevitably fall, all of us. Death reigns supreme in this world. The one common denominator of all men is this: we shall certainly and surely die. The grave is our ultimate and final home in this earth. And the decay and the dissolution of our bodies is our final and ultimate achievement. This is the end of all life. This is the goal toward which all of us are reaching. And it is the end of the race toward which all of us are running, to die, to turn to dust, to be buried in the earth [Genesis 3:19].
If we had a visitor from some foreign planet—from a Jupiter, or from a Neptune, or a Mars, or a star beyond the universe—and they came to this earth, they would say, “This earth is a place in which to bury the dead.” The whole earth, the billions and the billions who have lived; the billions who are living now and the billions who shall be born tomorrow, the earth is one vast cemetery, it is one vast graveyard. And into that dust of the ground, we are also inevitably moving. And the Lord God asks: “Can these bones live? [Ezekiel 37:3]. Can these corpses be raised? Can these be regenerated and resurrected?”
“Lord, how could it be, Thou knowest, I do not” [Ezekiel 37:3].
I don’t see men raised from the dead. When they are buried they stay buried. When their corpses are put into the earth, they turn to dust. They are food for corruption and worms. “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3]. As I look at it, I would say “no!”
Can that corpse live? No! Can those bones be resurrected? No! Can this body be resurrected from the grave? No! Can there be life and reconstruction around that skeleton? No! I would say “no!” But I am limited in my human infinitude, and self-incapacity, and unableness—my feebleness, my shortness of life and limited strength—when I say no, I speak in human weakness and in finite experience.
But when I turn my face from death, and the grave and human frailty, and limitation, and inability, and weakness—when I turn my face from me and look up to the Almighty God—and the Lord says: “Can these bones live? [Ezekiel 37:3]. Is there resurrection possible for these who have fallen into the dead?” And for me, in the day and time that my physical house shall corrupt, can God raise me from the dead? Can He? [John 11:25-26]
All Scripture, in its beginning, is an adumbration of that omnipotence of Almighty God. In the song of Hannah, she said: “Thou art He that raises us up from our graves” [1 Samuel 2:6-8]. In the nineteenth chapter of Job, he said: “Though worms, through my skin, destroy this body, yet, in my flesh, shall I see God: Whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another” [Job 19:26-27]. David sang, saying: “God will not leave His holy One to lie in corruption” [Psalm 16:10]. The court preacher, and marvelous celestial singer, and poet of Israel, Isaiah said: “They that sit in darkness have seen a great light and they that dwell in the shadow of death upon them, light has shined” [Isaiah 9:2]. Daniel said: “These that sleep in the dust of the earth shall rise; some to everlasting life, some to shame, and everlasting contempt” [Daniel 12:2].
And the adumbrations of the Holy Word of God came to flower, and fulfillment, and fruition in the glorious resurrection of Christ from the dead: “He is not here. See the place where they laid Him? He is alive” [Matthew 28:5-9]. And the repercussion of the whole creation, since that first day of the week, the first Sunday of the Christian era [Matthew 28:1-6]—Our Lord is alive! He is alive! He has been raised from the dead! And in His resurrection, all of us who are joined to Him shall also be raised to a new, and celestial, and immortal life with our glorious Savior in heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]—the resurrection by the power of God from the dead [Romans 1:4, 8:11].
Number three: this is a revelation; this is a picture; this is a parable [Ezekiel 37:1-10], this is a promise of the regeneration of the heart and spirit of a man who is dead; who is fallen into trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1-8]. The bones are very many and very dry: the unconverted, the dead, the spiritually dead are almost without number [Ezekiel 37:2]. They are uncountable; the dead in trespasses and in sins. Not only these whom we know, these with whom we dwell, but these whom we don’t know, of different languages, of different nationalities, of different tribes, of different tongues, of different speech—lost, dead, facing the judgment of Almighty God, dead.
The bones are very many and they are very dry [Ezekiel 37:2]. So vast is the number of the unconverted, that Elijah one time cried saying: “I, and I alone am left” [1 Kings 19:10]. So vast is that number, so illimitable that John could say: “The whole world lieth in wickedness” [1 John 5:19]. So given to false worship and false gods is this earth, that the apostle Paul, walking through the great Athenian city of the Greeks, said: “The whole city is given over unto idolatry” [Acts 17:16]. And thus the description of the entire world, given to the worship of money, or power, or fame, or success, pleasure, everything that mind could think of except the one true God, bowing down before the altars of this world. And not only are the unconverted innumerable, the bones are very many and very dry [Ezekiel 37:2], but in the house of God itself, how many are unsaved and unregenerated, and unconverted, untouched by the changing Spirit of God? [1 Peter 4:17]
In my reading through the works of preparing this message, one of the men describing a survey of the churches said, “Only thirty percent”—you think of that, that leaves out seventy percent—“only thirty percent of the people in the church give any evidence of being regenerated.” What a tragedy! What an unthinkableness! Only thirty percent, thirty out of a hundred of the members of the church give any evidence of being converted. What a tragedy! In my reading this week, one of the men referred to the church as “organized hypocrisy.” Men and women who have their names on a church roll; who are counted Christians, but have never been regenerated; never been raised from the dead; never been touched by the power of God; still in trespasses and unforgiven sins. Lord, Lord, look upon us in pity!
I read this week where an intermediate boy was invited by his peers to go to the show. And he said: “No, I’m going to church. This is Sunday; I’m going to church.” But they pressed him, and he said: “No! I belong to the church. I’m a Christian; I’m going to church.” So the lad went to church. He sat down in the congregation and he looked for his Sunday school teacher. And his Sunday school teacher wasn’t there. He looked for a favorite deacon whom he knew. He wasn’t there. He looked around for others whom he knew. They weren’t there. The boy decided it was indifferent; it was unimportant. And the boy got up, walked out, and went to the show. That would be typical of the people who belong to the house of God, so the survey says. They are untouched, and unconverted, and unregenerated, and unresurrected. They are dead!
But O, God! In the valley of desolation, and destruction, and disintegration, and death, how easy to fall into abysmal despair—“Lord, look at these vast numbers who are unconverted. And look at the percent in our churches that are untouched by the regenerating Spirit of God. O, God what of us? This of us!” The Lord says: “Can these bones live? [Ezekiel 37:3] Is there possibility of revival, and resuscitation, and resurrection—is that possible?” And the answer from God always is a resounding and heavenly: “Yes!” Revival, anywhere and in any place, is always possible and many times imminent.
The father whose boy went away [Luke 15:11-32], exclaimed when the lad came back home, “This my son, was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found!” [Luke 15:24]. That always is possible in any house, in any home, in any community, in any fellowship, in any domestic life, revival is always possible. There is no such thing as men falling so low, or being so depraved, or so consumed by iniquity, and trespasses, and sin, that they’re beyond the power of God to reach, to regenerate, and to touch.
Charles Darwin of this last century, was the greatest scientist of those 1800s—possibility one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. In 1831 to 1836, he was on a ship called the Beagle, going through those seas around South America and finally in the South Sea Islands of the Pacific. Down at the bottom, at the very tip of South America is a land called Tierra del Fuego, right there at the bottom. And when Charles Darwin, on the Beagle, visited the Tierra del Fuegians, he said, “I, at last, have found the missing link between the anthropoid and the Homo sapiens, between the ape and the man, I have found the missing link. These people,” he said, “were so depraved, and so bestial, and so subhuman in character and conduct, that they were neither ape nor man. They were subhuman.” And Charles Darwin announced that to the world—these Tierra del Fuegians down there at the bottom of the South America.
God’s people heard it. They listened to the report of Charles Darwin. And the missionaries of the Christian faith went down to the tip of South America to preach the gospel of the regenerating grace of God to those subhuman people, as Charles Darwin called them. And a great revival broke out! A great outpouring of the Spirit was experienced. And the Tierra del Fuegoans became models of Christian love, and virtue, and grace, and life, and conduct. They were a new people in a new nation.
And Charles Darwin wrote, “It shames me as I remember my prophecy of failure for the missionaries there.” Their endeavors met with marvelous success. And he wrote to the London Missionary Society who had sent the missionaries down there. Charles Darwin wrote, I quote, “I shall feel proud if your committee shall think fit to select me as an honorary member of your society.” Andin the letter, he enclosed twenty-five English pounds for gospel missions—amazed at what the missionaries had done among those bestial people.
We never get beyond the ableness of God to change us, to resurrect us, to forgive us, to receive us into His loving arms—He did me! He did us! He is a merciful God [Exodus 34:6-7]—I have found mercy. He is a God of refuge [Psalm 91:2]—I have fled there. He is a God of forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7]—I have experienced it. He is a God of victory and rejoicing [1 Corinthians 15:57]—I know the exaltation of it. And He is the Lord God of heaven [Deuteronomy 10:14]—at times I hear the angels singing in my heart. That’s God! Always there’s a possibility of revival, of resurrection, of regeneration—these bones live.
Fourth, the last one: here is a revelation, a spiritual parable and picture of the means of God for the regeneration of mankind [Ezekiel 37:1-10]; the conversion of God’s fallen people. In this wonderful, traumatic revelation, there are two means by which God regenerates the soul. They are instruments of the Holy Spirit of God to convert us, to save us. The first is preaching: “And the Lord God said to me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” [Ezekiel 37:4].
Now to us in this modern day and it is a new use of the word, to us prophecy entails foretelling. You know, saying something that’s going to happen in the future. It has no meaning like that in the Bible, nor until just recent years. “Prophecy” in the Bible always means proclaiming, proclaiming, speaking out, forth, objectively the word of God. “Prophecy” is a word for preaching. “Prophesy upon these dry bones, and say, Hear the word of the Lord” [Ezekiel 37:4]. Preach to these dry bones, and hear ye the word of the Lord—preaching!
The first instrument of God in reaching us is preaching. Paul said it like this in 1 Corinthians 1:21: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Not that the content is foolish, but that the method God chose–to us–is foolishness. Why didn’t God do it by miracles? Or why didn’t God do it by incantation? Or why doesn’t God do it by stretching out for esoteric experiences? Why doesn’t God do it by ritual, or genuflection, or by burning incense, or by litany? Why doesn’t God do it by social work, by civic betterment and amelioration? No, God chose to do it by preaching; preaching the Word of the Lord; expounding the Scriptures, “Hear ye what God has to say” [Jeremiah 10:1]. And that’s the tragedy of these who don’t come to church and don’t listen to the message. They spurn, they turn aside from the one first instrument that God has chosen for our regeneration and for our conversion. God help us to hear, and hearing to be saved [Romans 10:13-15].
Now when God spoke to Ezekiel and said: “Prophesy—preach—to these dry bones, and say unto them, hear the word of the Lord” [Ezekiel 37:4]. Dry bones don’t have ears to hear, or hearts to feel, or eyes to see, or ableness to respond. Had he walked by sight and not by faith, he could have replied: “Lord, no idiotic thing like that shall I do–preaching to these who are dead.” I can well imagine that reason whispered in one ear of the prophet Ezekiel: “That command of the Lord is idiocy.” And I can imagine that unbelief whispered in the other ear of [Ezekiel] saying: “That command of the Lord is useless. Why preach to dead people, to dry bones? Why?”
But the command of the Lord was, “Preach…!” [Ezekiel 37:4] Whether they hear or whether they forebear; whether they listen or they don’t; whether they turn or don’t turn; whether they live or not—preach! Preach to the dead; preach to the dry bones; preach to the unconverted. As God said to Jonah, “I am sending you to Nineveh to preach the preaching which I command you” [Jonah 3:2]. And Ezekiel obeyed, “So I prophesied. I preached to those dry bones” [Ezekiel 37:7].
And you know how God works! It is wonderful to see! God works by stages; He works by installments; He works by pieces. God works by parts; He works by moments and He works by movements. He works little at a time, a little at a time. That’s the way God works. As the Lord would say, “You have first the seed; then you have the blade; then you have the stalk; then you have the bud; then you have the bloom; then you have the fruit” [Mark 4:28]. God works by stages, by installments—by this, by moments, by movements. And thus it was, when Ezekiel preached [Ezekiel 37:7], preached to dry bones, preached to the dead. God works by movements, by moments, by installments, by pieces. This bone joined this bone; and this joint came to this place; and this skeleton here was complete. And then the sinews covered it; and then the skin covered it all as he was preaching [Ezekiel 37:7-8].
That is what God does. A man will hear, hear, hear and then one day, he’ll hear; one day he’ll hear… And as he listens, there’ll be a speaking in his heart and there’ll be a conviction, and there’ll be a repentance, and a turning, and a faith, and a commitment, and a confession, and the man is born again—he is resurrected [John 3:3-16]. It is wonderful how God works, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God–that’s the first thing, preaching.
Then there’s one other to be added to it: praying to the Holy Spirit. “Then the Lord said unto me, Prophesy unto the ruach” [Ezekiel 37:9]. You know, that’s an unusual thing: whether it’s Hebrew or whether it’s Greek, it’s the same thing. In Greek it would be pneuma. You have a “pneumatic tire”; pneuma: breath, wind, spirit; same word, it means all of it. It is exactly like that in Hebrew. The Hebrew ruach, ruach —it means breath; it means wind; it means spirit; it’s all the same. “Prophesy,” He says, “unto the ruach, unto the breath, unto the wind, unto the spirit”; “Prophesy, son of man, and say to the ruach, Thus saith the Lord God: Come from the four ruach, from the four winds of the earth—from God’s whole creation, O, breath O, breath; O, ruach, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the ruach, the breath came into them, and they… stood up; a living people” [Ezekiel 37:9, 10].
That is the second thing; we are to pray for the coming of the ruach, the breath of God; the Spirit of God. After he had preached—and the bones were joined to bones, and the sinews and the flesh and all—but they were still dead corpses, their hands were stiff; their eyes were glazed, and their tongues were paralyzed and silent. They had no ruach; they had no breath; they had no Spirit of God in them. So the Lord said to Ezekiel: “Pray to the ruach, to the breath, to the Spirit of God that the Spirit of God come upon them” [Ezekiel 37:9].
Now may I pause to say, however much the pastor may study or expound the word of God or be true to the Scriptures, it is still a dead corpse that lies before him until there comes the power and the Spirit of God. Though a Demosthenes or a Savanarola were to stand here forever and preach, still it is a dead corpse until the ruach, the breath of God, the Spirit of God falls upon us.
Do you remember the great passage in Zechariah? “Not by might, nor by power, but by My ruach, by My breath, by My Spirit saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. We can’t regenerate, we can’t re-create, we can’t raise from the dead, we can’t resurrect from the grave—God must do it! It is a work of the Lord! God must do it. So our appeal to the breath of God: “O Lord, O Spirit of life, come and fall upon us!” Sometimes, with strong crying and tears, we plead and beg at God’s throne of grace. Sometimes our importunity must be continued to be not denied. “Lord, listen to us! Lord, help us! Lord, convict me, Thy Spirit come! Lord God, the regenerating, resurrecting power of God. Lord, fall upon us! Fall upon us!”
And that is precisely and exactly what the Lord Jesus did when He met with His disciples after He was raised from the dead; He breathed on them. He breathed on them, and He said: “Receive you the ruach, the pneuma, the breath, the Spirit of God” [John 20:22]. And He breathed on them that they might live; that they might be quickened; that they might have power; that the Spirit of the Almighty and Omnipotent might work with them. And that is our appeal, and prayer, and intercession before God today.
O Lord, breathe on us! Lord, breathe on me! Fill Thou my heart, cleanse every part! O ruach; O breath, O Spirit of God, breathe on me! This is the Lord speaking, and the Lord’s wooing, and the Lord’s inviting, and the Lord’s converting, and the Lord’s appealing, and the Lord’s raising, and the Lord’s resurrecting, and the Lord’s impartation of new life–reborn, regenerated–made like unto the glorious image of [His] Son [Romans 8:29] whom we shall see someday in heaven [John 16:16; Revelation 22:3-4].
And that is our appeal to you. When we stand in this moment to sing our song of invitation, “The Spirit of God has moved my heart and I am answering with my life. I want to open my heart to the Lord Jesus and here I stand” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “I want to put my life in the fellowship of this dear church and here I come [Hebrews 10:24-25]. I want to answer an appeal of the Lord speaking in my heart, and here I am.” In the balcony round, down one of these stairways in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I am on the way. I am on the way.” Make that decision now in your heart. And when you stand up, stand up walking into that aisle, walking down that stairway, standing here with us, “Pastor, God help me. I answer the call of the Spirit in my heart and here I am.” May angels attend you in the way and God’s Holy Spirit bless you as you answer, as you come, as you stand; in His precious and wonderful, saving and living name, amen. While we sing our song, come.
OF THE DEAD
A. Background of the
1. “Can these
B. Four revelations of
God from this vision
revelation – Israel’s full restoration
2. Immediate partial
fulfillment of the prophecy
3. A picture and
parable of the resurrection from the dead
of the spirit of the man
II. Resurrection of the Jewish nation
A. Destruction of the
nation seemed final
B. It is God who asks,
“Can these bones live?”
III. Resurrection of the dead
A. Death reigns supreme
in this world
B. The power of God
IV. Resurrection and rebirth of the soul
A. The unconverted are
very many and very dry
B. The possibility of
V. The means of conversion