What Will Our “Bodies” Be Like in the Resurrection??

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What will o drur resurrection bodies be like? In the resurrection will we resemble our present selves? Many of us may think we will enter eternity as disembodied spirits. This is the way that many of us tend to think of the resurrection body. Charles Hodge described the resurrection body: “It is probable that the future body will not only retain the human form, but that it will also be a glorified likeness of what it was on earth.…How should we know Peter or John in heaven, if there were not something in their appearance and bearing corresponding to the image of themselves impressed by their writings on the minds of all their readers?”[1] Albert Mohler wrote, “many believers do not live with the confident expectation for the future that the Bible teaches, and this produces a detrimental consequence on life and ministry in the present. Recapturing the Bible’s instruction on the resurrection and the life to come becomes an absolute necessity so that the glories of these promises to come might enrich our present yearning and deepen our longing for that day when we will no longer walk by faith but by sight.”[2]

The disembodied spirit view is not what we find in the history of the church.[3] Christianity is based on confidence in Jesus’ resurrection and the future resurrection to life everlasting. Shedd noted that “The doctrine of the resurrection of the body was from the first a cardinal and striking tenet of Christianity. The resurrection of Christ made it such.”[4] The ancients were familiar with the concept of continued spiritual existence, but the idea of a physical resurrection was striking and new to the Athenian philosophers to whom Paul preached in Acts 17.[5] Norman Geisler said:

The resurrection of Christ loses its apologetic value unless it is a physical resurrection of the same body that died. Indeed, the apostle Paul is willing to say that Christianity is false if Christ was not raised bodily from the grave. Hence, the defense of the resurrection as a physical event involving reanimation of the physical body of Christ that died is crucial to Christian apologetics. Denial of the physical resurrection of Christ is tantamount to a denial of the resurrection itself since it is only the physical body, not the soul, that dies. And if that physical body does not come back to life, then there was no bodily resurrection.”[6]

The resurrection body will be similar to the current body, but it will not be identical. It is a glorified body. “Because the Scripture teaches a literal resurrection of the body it is not necessary to insist on the literal resurrection of the identical body—hair, tooth, and nail—that was laid under the ground.[7]

“The usual form of Christian burial, in the case of the faithful, has ever been, ‘We commit this body to the grave in the sure hope of a blessed resurrection.”[8] The ancient “Apostles’ Creed” contains 12 statements of faith and closes with “We believe in the resurrection of the Body and life everlasting. The resurrection of our physical body is the doctrine we find in our Scriptures. In the Bible, we do not find disembodied spirits living with God forever. Instead, we find the promise of resurrection which demands that the physical body will be “glorified” and reunited with our spirits before entering into glory.
If we had not been trained to think “disembodied existence” then perhaps we would have noticed the promises of the “physical” resurrection in the Scriptures. We wait, Paul wrote, for “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23-24). Paul described the resurrection as “the redemption of our bodies.” Many of us think that our bodies will just be gone forever, but Paul said we wait for “the redemption of our bodies.” How is that possible? The sovereign power of God.[9] But what will those resurrected bodies be like?

Just a spirit with no “body”?

Some reject the notion of a resurrection body. They remind us that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom—1 Cor. 15:50. And that in the resurrection people will “neither marry nor given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). They will tell us that a physical body can’t inhabit Heaven (a spiritual space).[10]

But is that what the Bible says? The Bible does give us an example of what the resurrection body will be like in Jesus’ resurrected body. So, what about Jesus’ resurrected body? (1 Cor. 15:20, 23, 49; Phil. 3:21; Lk. 24:42-43, 50). Luke told us that Jesus could handle fish and even eat fish after the resurrection (Lk. 24:42-43). This resurrected body is what ascended up into Heaven (Lk. 24:50-51). Jesus’ resurrected body was similar to his incarnate body, but it was also very different (it could pass through walls, hide Jesus’ identity, etc.). So, it seems that our resurrection body will be like Jesus’ resurrection body. So, perhaps the resurrection body will be something substantially different from our body but also substantially like our body.

The concept of resurrection (ἀνάστασις) does not allow room for a disembodied resurrection. Hebrews 11:35 points this out in that widows received back their dead through resurrection. If resurrection is simply a noncorpreal existence, then what sort of reception was that? Did not the Hebrews writer mean that the body was rejoined with the soul and made to live? The same principle is demonstrated with the resurrection of Lazarus. “His body and soul were reunited and he was again a living being, who had contact with people. There is indeed a great deal of mystery which enshrouds the condition of the resurrection body, but by faith, we accept and trust the Word of God in its statements concerning the matter.”[11] Lazarus first resurrection helps us to understand that resurrection demands some sort of body. Although at the next resurrection, which we will experience with Lazarus, all will receive a heavenly resurrection body suited for eternity.

God’s promise is our expectation

God’s promise of the resurrection body is clear. The body will be raised. The return of Christ will usher in “the redemption of our bodies.” Then Christ will “give life to your mortal bodies.” This is what Paul taught:

  • Romans 8:11, “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.”
  • Romans 8:23, we “have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved.”
  • Philippians 3:21, Christ will “fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things to himself.”

Arguing from Romans 8, Barnhouse wrote, “These passages leave no doubt that the resurrection is to be a material reality, and that our resurrection bodies will be like that in which our Lord Jesus Christ came forth from the grave on the day of His resurrection.”[12] God’s promises revolve around the resurrection. Christ is risen! Christians will rise!

John 5-6

Jesus described his work as leading to the resurrection of the body. Jesus said, “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:28-29). Jesus said this work which he would bring about was the Father’s will. Those who believe will be raised up on the last day. “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn. 6:39-40).

It is important to note that God’s will and Jesus work will bring about the “raising up” of believers. Jesus did not promise a disembodied existence. Instead, Jesus said that body which was deposited into the earth would be “raised up” on the last day. This body is, of course, a spiritual or glorified body, but it is a body nonetheless. As Hodge wrote, “What stands sure is what the Bible teaches, that our heavenly bodies are in some high, true, and real sense, to be the same as those which we now have.”[13]

1 Corinthians 15:12-59

1 Corinthians 15 is one of my favorite chapters and one of the most important chapters in the Bible on the doctrine of the resurrection. Briefly, Paul taught that we could be certain of Christ’s resurrection and we can be certain that we will be raised similarly to Christ.[14] Geisler noted the essential nature of the resurrection when he wrote, “The New Testament teaches that belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is a condition for salvation (Rom. 10:9, 10; 1 Thess. 4:14). It is part of the essence of the Gospel itself (1 Cor 15:1–5). The New Testament understanding of the body (sōma) was of a literal, physical body. Hence, a denial of the physical resurrection of Christ undercuts the Gospel.”[15] Furthermore, Christians must live cruciformly and in pursuit of the resurrection—“steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

In this great chapter, Paul taught us much about the resurrection. Christ has been raised: so there is a resurrection—v. 12-19; he is the first fruit until death is abolished—v. 20-28; we live for resurrection not the moment—v. 29-34; we will be raised in his image and glory—v. 35-49;[16] we will be raised incorruptible as he was—v. 50-57. Paul began a discussion on the nature of the resurrection body in verse 35. Paul taught that the natural body must die—v. 36. The natural body is not the resurrection body—v. 37. Instead, it is a “bare kernel.” God will give another body as he has chosen—v. 38. “The σῶμα ψυχικόν, or natural body, therefore, is a body adapted to the soul in this aspect of its nature; and the σῶμα πνευματικόν, or spiritual body, is a body adapted to the higher attributes of the soul.”[17] This is the glorified body—v. 38-42. This new resurrected body will not suffer from physical ailments and corruption brought about by sin—v. 43-44. This resurrection body will be “raised in glory” and “raised in power.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection was given to the Thessalonians in order to encourage their perseverance in this life. Paul reminded them that the resurrection is a reality. He would not have them to be ignorant of this fact. It is essential to Christianity.

Dead in Christ will come with Christ—4:13-14. The “dead in Christ” will return with Christ. This is Christian hope. If we neglect or abandon this central feature of the Christian system, then we dishonor God and forfeit our own hope. At that time, those who are alive in Christ will be transformed—4:15-16. Instead of death and decay, the living believers will be immediately transformed into this glorious “resurrection” body. This transformation does not eliminate the resurrection of the dead. Paul said that the “dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Note that they will “rise.” Paul didn’t say they would miraculously appear. He said they will rise. This is a physical resurrection of a glorified, spiritual, resurrection body. Then all the redeemed will be with Christ forever—4:17-18. All those who are in Christ will be with Christ with their spiritual, glorified, resurrection bodies.

Are you ready for the resurrection?

Geisler noted that “Without a physical resurrection there is no grounds for celebrating victory over physical death.”[18] As we think of the reality of the resurrection and the resurrection of our body, we cannot but think of what joys we might experience with God and of what pain we might feel if we are cast away from God. There is a lot we don’t yet know about the resurrection body. But we can know that we will be raised like Jesus was. “What was the nature and likeness of Christ’s resurrection body which our resurrection body is to resemble? It was a real body (Luke 24:39); recognizable (Luke 24:31; John 20:16); powerful (John 20:19).”[19] Aquinas pointed this out as well. He wrote, “But just as the Resurrection of Christ’s body, through its personal union with the Word, is first in point of time, so also is it first in dignity and perfection; as the gloss says on 1 Cor. 15:20, 23. But whatever is most perfect is always the exemplar, which the less perfect copies according to its mode; consequently Christ’s Resurrection is the exemplar of ours. And this is necessary, not on the part of Him Who rose again, Who needs no exemplar, but on the part of them who are raised up, who must be likened to that Resurrection, according to Phil. 3:21: He will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of His glory.[20]

We can know an additional four things: “first, it is not necessarily identical with that which descended into the grave; second, it will have some organic connection with that which descended into the grave; third, it will be a body which God, in His sovereignty, will bestow; fourth, it will be a body which will be a vast improvement over the old one.”[21] The resurrection body we have will not be like our current body but it will be, in some way, similar it seems. We, in our resurrected bodies, will either live with Christ who also has a resurrected body. Or, we will forever be punished by God for our sin away from his presence.

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 781.

[2] Mohler, R. Albert . The Apostles’ Creed (p. 185). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[3]There were and are some who do not see the resurrection of the body in Scripture. “The Alexandrine school, alone, adopted a spiritual theory of the resurrection. Origen went so far as to assert that a belief in the resurrection of the body is not absolutely essential to the profession of Christianity, provided the immortality of the soul were maintained.” William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 868.

[4] William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 867.

[5] Perhaps no article of the new religion made a greater impression, at first view, upon the pagan. When the philosophers of Athens “heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, and others said, ‘We will hear you again of this matter’(Acts 17:32). The immortality of the soul and its disembodied existence were familiar to them. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 867.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, “Resurrection, Physical Nature Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 665.

[7] William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 248.

[8] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 775.

[9] Thiselton listed helpful discussion in Kennedy, St Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, 243; Edwards, First Epistle, 434; cf. Barth, Resurrection, 18; Wendland, Die Briefe, 151; Lange, Die Briefe, 231

[10]Hodge helps us to see the appropriate message from these texts. He wrote, “There are two negative statements in the Bible on this subject, which imply a great deal. One is the declaration of Christ, That in the resurrection, men neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God. The other is the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” There seem to be plainly three things implied or asserted in these passages. (1.) That the bodies of men must be specially suited to the state of existence in which they are to live and act. (2.) That our present bodies, that is, our bodies as now organized, consisting as they do of flesh and blood, are not adapted to our future state of being. And (3.) That everything in the organization or constitution of our bodies designed to meet our present necessities, will cease with the life that now is. Nothing of that kind will belong to the resurrection body. If blood be no longer our life, we shall have no need of organs of respiration and nutrition. So long as we are ignorant of the conditions of existence which await us after the resurrection, it is vain to speculate on the constitution of our future bodies. It is enough to know that the glorified people of God will not be cumbered with useless organs, or trammeled by the limitations which are imposed by our present state of existence. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 780.

[11] Willliam Goulooze, “Jesus, Our Resurrection and Life,” in Sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism, ed. Henry J. Kuiper, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1936–1956), 267.

[12] Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Heirs: Romans 8:1–39 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), 132.

[13] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 779–780.

[14] “Paul, in fact, explicitly likened the Christian’s resurrected body to Christ’s resurrected body (vv. 20, 45–49). If he regarded Christ’s resurrected body as a non-material mode of being, like that of the Holy Spirit, he expressed this in a remarkably oblique manner. What distinguished the Son from the Father and from the Holy Spirit was His incarnation. If Paul meant to say that the incarnate Son became again a purely spiritual being at His resurrection, and Christians likewise will gain this mode of being, his words to the Corinthians about the necessity of a resurrection seem curiously beside the point. Though it is clear that Paul did not articulate precisely the nature of Christ’s resurrected body with all its glorious differences, he conceived of it, nonetheless, as a corporeal form of existence.” Roy B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 292.

[15] Norman L. Geisler, “Resurrection, Physical Nature Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 666.

[16] “The exclamatio (not merely an emotive outburst, ἄφρων σύ, v. 36a) rejects the false assumption that the transformed resurrection “body” (σῶμα) is the same as the body which is sown in death, any more than a flower or fruit is like its seed (even through its identity remains as this, not that); and (b) the exclamatio picks up the allusion to utter lack of knowledge of God (v. 34b) and refutes the notion that intelligibility or conceivability could have any logical currency apart from the frame (cf. the logical enthymeme that God the creator gives it the appropriate σῶμα determined by his purpose, wisdom, and resourceful design, not by the limits of human imagination, v. 38).” Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1259.

[17] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 784.

[18] Norman L. Geisler, “Resurrection, Physical Nature Of,” 666.

[19] William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 248.

[20] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

[21] William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed., 248.

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