The Mortal Swallowed up by Life

John Doone’s Holy sonnet 10, published after his death in 1633, “Death, be not proud” begins,

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;”

The concluding words are “Death, thou shalt die.” I don’t know what specific passages of Scripture Donne may have had in mind, but he echoes Paul’s thought in 2 Corinthians 5 that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.

You have a better house coming! Your death means your presence with the Lord. Why is human death a reality in this world? Go back to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Is is the wages of sin. Only two human beings in the history of he world have passed from this life without dying — Enoch and Elijah. Even Jesus, the God-man, went through death, not because he ever sinned, but he became our sin-bearer. But even in Genesis 3, God graciously postponed death to allow the line to begin from whom the Messiah would be born. But the fact of death still remains for all of us until Christ returns. Christians face death in a way that is profoundly different from the way unbelievers do. The destruction of your earthly body is not the end: a) there is a continuing life, and b) there is the restoration and glorification of the resurrection. To be at home in the body is to be away from the Lord. Right now you are out of Christ’s bodily presence. At the moment of your death, that will change. Christ’s presence is Paul’s preference (though this is not a call to seek martyrdom), verse 8. The sting of death is gone—for him and for you.

Look forward to a house not made with hands. What is even better than being present with the Lord when you die? The glory of the resurrection! What does your present tent imply? Your present tent implies a future heavenly dwelling. (Is Paul reflecting on the contrast with his own hand-made tents?) God made you for this purpose, verse 5, see also verse 1. Note the parallel with 1 Corinthians 15:44. Just as the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting in the wilderness (which itself looked back to and represented Eden) anticipated the glorious and permanent Temple, so your present tent implies a future, glorified body. Creation was made for eschatology. Do you want to know what your resurrection body will be like? “The template for our resurrection body has already been seen by mortal eyes in the resurrection body of Jesus.” (Scott McKnight, in “For Heaven’s Sake!” podcast, 05/25/2016). Your resurrected body, like that of Christ’s is a real body. When God made mankind, he created them male and female in his image. Though your present body suffers from the effects of fall, including illness and death, your body is included in what it means to be image of God. That same body, in some mysterious way, will be raised up. That means there is something objective about who you are. At the heart of the transgender controversies is an issue much more basic than who uses which restroom. Mankind, in an ultimate effort to throw off creaturehood, declares that feelings are determinative of who you are. It says, “I can make myself whatever I want to be.” You proclaim something very different, and very counter-cultural, when you quietly but firmly confess: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”

“There [2 Cor. 5:1–10] Paul addresses the believer’s hope of bodily resurrection, in other words, hope for the outer man…. For the present, until Jesus comes, our union with him and our sharing in the benefits of that union are ‘by faith,’ but not (yet) ‘by sight.’ We have our salvation for the present, all told, in the mode of believing, but as that believing falls short of seeing. Such ‘sight’ participation in the benefits of union with Christ is reserved for what will be openly manifest in the resurrection of the body at his return (the predominating concern of the immediate context).”

Richard B. Gaffin Jr., By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, p. 66

The mortal will be swallowed up by life. Rejoice, because God has given you the Spirit of the risen Savior as a guarantee. In what sense is your heavenly dwelling Spiritual? Your heavenly dwelling is Spiritual. It is not immaterial, at least not after Christ’s return. It is characterized by the Holy Spirit, see 1 Corinthians 15:44-49. Why is a guarantee important? The Holy Spirit is the deposit on your future glory. Earnest money is a down payment in kind. The presence of the Spirit is the guarantee of his future fullness, see 1 Corinthians 15:44ff.; Romans 8:22,23. You are the beginning of what you will be.

How does the resurrection lead to feeling in your heart “the beginning of eternal joy”? You are already a new creation. You have been raised up with Christ. His resurrection and yours are truly one event—though separated by 2000 years. Do you get the force of what Paul is saying when he talks about the mortal being swallowed up by life? Think of a python that has squeezed its prey and now is swallowing it up. It may be dinner for the python, but it is not good news for the swallowee. But in this case the mortal is swallowed up by life—to live in glorious eternal freedom! You might say that death is squeezed to death!

Make it your goal to please God. There is a certain tension in the Christian life. You are characterized by the Holy Spirit. He is yours. You are raised with Christ. Your life is hidden with God in Christ, Colossians 3:1ff. Yet You still are an earthly house. You are subject to the pain, suffering, decay, and ultimately death, which are the curse of sin. Sin still enters your life. So you groan, verse 2. You struggle against sin.

“God’s basic and ultimate pur­pose… is that his children should be conformed to Christ in order that he might be the first-born, the elder brother, among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). Christ is the first-born, not only in the sense of his eternal sonship, but also in terms of his resurrection and the glory which he entered through it…. Christ intends to fashion our resurrection life on the model of himself, just as our present life on earth as Christians is shaped by the principles of his ministry too.”

Sinclair Ferguson, The Chris­tian Life, p. 199

Please the Lord. Look forward to your heavenly glory. Yearn for it with the anticipatory groaning of verse 2. Yet don’t become “other worldly.” The Christian life is not just mystical contemplation of future happiness. Your response to the Lord must be service. Your goal is to please him. That goal stands whether you life or die, whether you are in this tent or your heavenly dwelling. This world is God’s creation. It too will be renewed in the resurrection. Use it to his glory. You stand accountable to God for what you do in the body.

In the risen Christ you have a heavenly building, a body and a life fully characterized by the Spirit whom the exalted Savior poured out on the church. So seek to please him this week in all that you do.