The Christian hope is for a bodily resurrection from the dead.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. – Philippians 3.20-21
- We are waiting for Jesus to come from heaven
- When He does, He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body
- He will do this by the authority that He possesses to subject all things to Himself.
This, right here, contains in a nutshell what the whole New Testament teaches about the subject of resurrection. The risen Jesus is both the model for the Christian’s future body and the means by which we will receive that body.
Similarly notice Colossians 3.3-4:
You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
- Going to be with Jesus in some sort of invisible, hidden existence, is not the final hope.
- In fact, we are already “with Christ in God” right now, in a hidden secret way.
- What will change is that our secret and hidden existence with Christ will be revealed. It will become unhidden. It will become visible.
Perhaps the clearest passage on the bodily resurrection can be found in Romans 8.9-11:
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
- If the Spirit of God dwells in you…
- Then the same Spirit that rose Jesus’ body from the grave…
- Will give life to your mortal bodies.
Paul was not the only New Testament author who wrote of the resurrection.
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. – 1 John 3.1-2
Once again, the resurrected body of Jesus, with all its glory and purity, will be the model for our own transformed bodies.
John records Jesus making some of the clearest statements about the resurrection:
Truly, truly, I say unto you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgement, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. – John 5.25-29
All who are in the graves will come forth! Just as Jesus’ body was not left in the grave, so also, when we receive our new bodies, will our graves be emptied. His body somehow used up the substance that was left in the grave. Our current body will not disappear, nor will those old bodies be left in the grave but rather will be transformed to be as He is.
No study of the resurrection would be complete without considering Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
In 2 Corinthians 4.7-10, Paul compares our current bodies to jars of clay. Currently, in these bodies, we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, always “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.”
In verse 16-18, Paul reminds us that the reason we do not lose heart is because of the coming eternal glory. Paul then continues his discussion by comparing our bodies to temporary, earthly “tents”, and contrasting that with our future, permanently built “house” of a body.
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. – 2 Corinthians 5.1-5
We are going to put off our earthly tent (or tabernacle). There is a new house, a new dwelling place, a new body that is waiting for us in heaven with God. We earnestly wait to be clothed with this new body from heaven. Our current, mortal bodies will be swallowed up in life.
Observe: When we receive our new bodies, we will not be clothed less than we are now. We will be clothed more than we are now. If Paul is right (and he is), right now we are only a shadow of our future selves. Our future bodies will be even more real, even more complete, and far more permanent than our current bodies.
Two Different Types of Bodies
And finally we come to 1 Corinthians 15, the most complete discussion on the resurrection found in Scripture.
Apparently there were some in Corinth who were denying that our bodies would actually be resurrected from the dead. Paul discusses just how central this is to Christianity.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15.16-20
Not only is the resurrection a reality, but the harvest of the resurrection has already begun. Christ is described as the “first fruit”. He is the model of what is to follow with the rest of us. Our graves will be empty like His. Our bodies will be raised like His. We will have bodies like his.
Paul continues to address objections to this idea by demonstrating that our future body will be different from our current body. To speak of a bodily resurrection does not imply that our future bodies will be exactly like our current bodies.
It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man’, Adam, ‘Became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. – 1 Corinthians 15.42-45.
Our current bodies are dishonorable and weak. They are described as “natural”. The Greek word here is “psyckikos”, sometimes translated “physical”. That is, a body that is animated or governed by the “psyche”, the Greek word for “breath” or “soul.” (Notice the comparison to Adam, who was a “living soul”).
Our future bodies are described as glorious, powerful, or “spiritual.” The Greek word for “spiritual” is “pneumatikos”. That is, a body that is animated or governed by the “pneuma”, the Greek word for the “Spirit”. (Notice the comparison to Jesus, the second Adam, who became a “life-giving spirit”).
Unfortunately, in the English language “physical” and “spiritual” are often used to denote “tangible” from things “non-tangible”. Therefore some have used this verse to suggest that our future existence will be less than bodily.
Notice carefully that Paul did not compare a physical body with a spiritual non-bodily existence. Paul compared two types of bodies. One type of body will be animated by man’s soul, and the other type will be animated by God’s spirit. If we are to be animated and governed by the Spirit, this necessitates that we have some sort of body that will be animated.
Will it be different from our current bodies? Absolutely. When Jesus was given a resurrected body, he could do some pretty weird things, like showing up in a room with his disciples without opening a door to come in (John 20.19-20). Yet He most certainly existed in a Spirit-governed, tangible, bodily existence; a body which could be touched and which could eat fish (John 21.12-14).
Why This is So Important
As Paul concludes his discussion of the resurrection, he does not say, “So therefore, it doesn’t really matter what you do here and now with your body, because one day we are all just going to die and go to heaven, somewhere above the bright blue, in some sort of non-bodily existence, floating on clouds and playing harps forever.”
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 15.58
Belief in the bodily resurrection includes the belief that what we do right now with our bodies is important. The work we do for the Lord will not simply be left behind us in the grave. But rather because our bodies will rise again and be incorruptible, what we do right now in our bodies matters. Because of the resurrection, we have work to do, work that is not in vain. The Christian hope is not looking forward to the day when we fly away from our bodies to somewhere above the clouds, but rather our victory is found in the bodily resurrection from the dead.
O death, where is your victory;
O death, where is your sting?