Will We Have “Physical” Bodies In The Resurrection?

The Body Will Be Incorruptible

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on the immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up” in victory. -1 Corinthians 15.50-54

As I pointed out in my preceding article, when we speak of the resurrection, we must be careful to emphasize that we will not have the same old corruptible bodies we have now. This is a continual emphasis of Paul’s, especially in the context of 1 Corinthians 15.  This parallels what Paul said in Philippians 3:20-21.

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 given to subject all things to Himself.

But when it comes to “flesh and blood” not inheriting the kingdom of God, this cannot mean that we won’t have bodies. This verse is in a section where Paul is specifically answering the question of “what kind of bodies” we will have.

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come? – 1 Corinthians 15.35

Once again, we need to let Paul define his own terms. Paul has already described what he means by “fleshly” people.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are still not able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealously and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? – 1 Corinthians 3.1-3

Here Paul uses the word “fleshly” to describe the same people he described as “natural” in 2.14-16 (referenced in the preceding article). The “natural” and “fleshly” people are those who walk as “mere men”, as opposed to the “spiritual” people who live in harmony with the Spirit. For Paul, the primary meaning of “flesh” is not “made out of matter” or “material” or “skin” or bodily”.  For Paul, “flesh” primarily referred to people who live in sinful rebellion (Rom. 7.5, 14, 18; 8.3-13; Gal. 5.16-19) and for our current bodies which are destined for decay, destruction and death (see also 1 Cor. 5.5; Rom. 7.5; 8.6, 13; 2 Cor. 4.11; Col. 1.22).

Therefore, when Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, he is not claiming that material “bodies” cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Rather, as he explains himself in the 2nd half of verse 50, “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Unless the nature of our bodies are changed from “corruptible”, “merely human” bodies, into “incorruptible” “spiritual bodies”, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Or as he says in verse 53, “this perishable must put on the imperishable”.

Is Jesus Still In A Body?

One further note should be made here. I have on multiple occasions heard preachers claim that when Jesus was raised, he had not yet received his transformed, spiritual body. Since “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and since Jesus was clearly raised with a material, tangible body, they conclude that he must have undergone yet another transformation upon his ascension into heaven.

First of all, there is nothing in Scripture that would indicate that Jesus underwent further transformation upon his ascension. Such a conclusion is drawn as an effort to reconcile what appears to be a contradiction between 1 Corinthians 15.50 with what we know about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body. If, however, we simply accept Paul’s own definition of “flesh and blood” instead of assuming a different definition, the apparent contradiction resolves itself easily.

Secondly, it should be noted that Scripture is clear that Jesus is still in bodily form, even after his ascension. We get a glimpse of this in Acts 1.9-11

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Jesus went up in His resurrected body. And He will return “in just the same way” – in his resurrected body.

Also, notice in Philippians 3.20-21, where Paul writes,

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also 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.

Jesus didn’t shed his human skin. He still has a body – a glorious body, a perfected body, a transformed body, a body like we haven’t experienced yet but will one day experience when He returns and transforms us.

Will We Be Raised with Physical Bodies?

Occasionally debates over the nature of the resurrection body revolve around whether or not we will be raised with “physical” bodies. Rarely do I contribute to such discussions without great hesitation. In fact, you may have noticed that I have described the resurrection body as “material” and “tangible” (since it will be made out of the same “stuff” that was once in our graves, and since Jesus was clearly visible and touchable, unlike bodiless spirits (Lk. 24.39)) , but I have avoided describing the resurrection body as “physical”.

This is not because I wish to be evasive, but rather because a simple “yes” or “no” would almost certainly leave the wrong impression. The difficulty revolves around the meaning of the word “physical”. The word “physical” seems to mean different things to different people, and unless we understand the word alike, we are almost certain to misunderstand one another.

For some, the word “physical” simply means “having material existence” or things which can be perceived through bodily senses. For them, “physical” is virtually synonymous with words like “bodily”, “tangible”, or “material”.

For others, the word “physical” refers to things which are defined by and subject to the physical laws of nature. This would include the tendency for matter and energy to deteriorate over time. Thus for them, the word “physical” includes the idea of “corruptibility”. To describe a body as “physical” is to say that the body is subject to the physical laws of the universe, and therefore is mortal. For them, the word “physical” is very similar to what Paul meant by the word “fleshly”.

So will we be raised with physical bodies? If by “physical”, we simply mean “bodily”, then yes, we will be raised with material, “physical” bodies. But if by “physical” we mean “corruptible” or “mortal”, no, our bodies will not be physical.

For most, I believe the word “physical” includes a little bit of both definitions. This makes sense. In our current world, we don’t have a category for a material “body” that is not subject to decay. The idea of an “incorruptible, physical body” stretches the bounds of our imaginations and language. For this reason, I generally avoid describing the resurrection body as “physical.” Our bodies will be transformed, and I don’t want anybody to miss that point due confusion about terminology.

We must not make the mistake of assuming that all types of material bodies are necessarily corruptible. And likewise, we must not make the mistake of assuming that if we are going to be incorruptible this necessitates a non-bodily “spiritual” existence. Paul wants us to recognize that there are different types of bodies (1 Cor. 15.39-42). When we are raised, we will be raised with bodies. We will be raised with spiritual, incorruptible, material, tangible bodies.

Both Continuity and Discontinuity

In one sense, our resurrection bodies will be the “same” bodies we have now. But in another very important sense, they will be transformed into something radically different. Earlier in the same chapter (1 Cor. 15.37-38) Paul uses the illustration of a seed compared with a full grown plant. There is “continuity” (both are the same organism), and they there is “discontinuity” (the full grown plant is radically different from what was first planted in the ground.)

Yes, we will be raised with bodies, but we must not neglect the great transformation, lest we reduce the resurrection into little more than a “resuscitation” of the same old corruptible body.

Yes, our bodies will be radically different “spiritual”, “incorruptible” bodies, but we will not be bodiless spirits. The dead will actually be raised.

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. – 1 Corinthians 15.16-17

You can read more on the resurrection here:

We Will Have “Spiritual Bodies”

It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body… Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. – 1 Corinthians 15.44, 50

Those who are in Christ will be raised with spiritual bodies. Read again slowly. Think about both words. “Spiritual”. “Bodies”. The Christian hope is not to be “bodiless spirits” floating around in a non-material existence. Neither is the Christian hope to have our same old corruptible “natural”, “fleshly” bodies. The Christian hope is to be resurrected with “spiritual” “ bodies”.

In recent years, I’ve occasionally witnessed Christians sharply disagree with one another about the nature of the resurrection body. One side will emphasize the continuity between our resurrection bodies and our current bodies (that is, we will be raised with the “same” bodies we have now). The other side will emphasize the discontinuity between our resurrection bodies and our current bodies (that is, our current bodies will be “transformed” into something very different).

We must be careful to avoid unbiblical extremes in either direction. Those who emphasize the sameness of our resurrection body must be careful never to deny the spiritual nature of our future bodies. Those who emphasize the spiritual nature our future selves must be careful never to deny the bodily nature of the resurrection. Instead we should strive for biblical balance by embracing both the continuity and the discontinuity of the resurrection.

We will not be bodiless spirits, and we will not have fleshly bodies. Scripture teaches that we will have spiritual bodies, bodies which in many ways have continuity with our current bodies, but in other very important ways will be very different from our current bodies.

This article is the first part of a two part series examining the nature of the resurrection body. This first article will primarily focus on 1 Corinthians 15.42-44, while the second article will primarily focus on 1 Corinthians 15:50-55. This series is in some ways a follow up to a two part series I wrote a few years ago. You can read those articles here:

The Body Will Be Spiritual

So also is the resurrection of the dead. 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. – 1 Cor. 15.42-44

Our resurrection bodies will be very different from our current bodies. In this passage, Paul makes an obvious contrast between our present bodies and our future bodies.

  • Our current bodies are perishable. Our future bodies will be imperishable.
  • Our current bodies are dishonorable. Our future bodies will be glorious.
  • Our current bodies are weak. Our future bodies will be raised in power.
  • Our current bodies are natural. Our future bodies will be spiritual.

Yes, there is a sense in which we can say that our future bodies are the “same” as our current bodies. For example, when Jesus rose from the dead, Thomas could reach out and touch Jesus’s wounds (Jn 20.27-29). Jesus was able to do things that real, material, bodily people are able to do, like cooking fish and eating breakfast (Jn. 21.9-14). When Jesus rose from the dead, He left behind an empty grave. His resurrected body used up the same material that was once in the grave. In this sense, Jesus was raised with the “same” material body that once hung on the cross.

For everything we don’t understand about the nature of the resurrection, we do know that His resurrection body is a model for our own resurrection bodies (Phil. 3.20-21; 1 Jn. 3.1-2). On the resurrection day, “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth” (Jn. 5.27-29). Just as Jesus’ resurrection left behind an empty grave, so also our graves will be emptied. The same “stuff” that goes into the grave will come out. That’s what the word “resurrection” means.

But (and this is important), Paul’s major point in 1 Corinthians 15.42-44 is that our bodies will not be the “same”. This discontinuity also follows the model of Jesus. For example, in the passage mentioned above, where Thomas reached out and touched Jesus’ wounds, we also read that “Jesus came, the door having been shut, and stood in their midst” (Jn. 20.26). Jesus appeared in a room with locked doors! We can’t do that in our current bodies! He was the same Jesus with the same tangible, touchable, visible material body, but He was different!

In Revelation 1.12-16, the resurrected Jesus is described with white hair, with a face like the sun and eyes like a flame of fire. This was clearly not the same old body that went into the grave! It was the “same body”, but it was obviously not the same body.

When Christians write articles and blog posts that argue that we will be raised with the same physical bodies we have now without likewise emphasizing the radical transformation we will undergo, is it any surprise that they are so frequently met with resistance? If it was important for Paul to emphasize the discontinuity between our current and our future bodies, it should be important for us to emphasize the same. Yes, we will be raised with bodies. Spiritual bodies.

What is a “Spiritual Body” Anyway?

A very important point must be made about the words “natural” and “spiritual”. For some, when they read about the “spiritual” body, they assume Paul is referring to a new, resurrection body that is “spiritual” in in the sense of being “non-material”. In other words, they assume that Paul’s “spiritual body” is the same thing as a “bodiless spirit” – something you could not touch, could not see, and something which would not leave an empty grave behind it. This is especially true when we see the “spiritual” body held in contrast with the “natural” body. For many, it appears that Paul is very clearly drawing a distinction between our current “material” bodies with our future “non-material” existence.

We must stop here and remember that we must allow Paul to define his own terms. Earlier in the same letter, Paul has already told his readers what he means (and what he doesn’t mean) when he uses the terms “natural” and “spiritual”.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2.14-16

Here Paul speaks of fully-embodied, tangible, material Christians as being “spiritual.” These Christians were not ghosts! Rather they were living in harmony with the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of the word “spiritual” throughout the entire book of 1 Corinthians (3.1; 6.19; 14.37). For Paul, the word “spiritual” almost never means non-material (Rom. 1.11; 7.14; 15.27; Gal. 6.1; Eph. 1.3; 5.19; Col. 1.9; 3.16). Rather the word “spiritual” refers to men whose character is consistent with the character and inspired scriptures of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the writings of Paul, the words “natural” and “spiritual” do not describe a contrast between material and non-material. Rather they draw a distinction between ordinary human life and life given by the Spirit.

This helps make sense of verses like Romans 8.11.

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.

It should also be noted that in 1 Corinthians 15.36-54 Paul is answering the question raised in verse 35: “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” Paul is describing the nature of our future bodies. Yes, we will be resurrected with bodies; spiritual bodies; bodies which are animated by and guided by the Spirit of God. These bodies will be quite different from our current, corruptible, fleshly, natural bodies. There will be no wheelchairs, no arthritis, no diabetes, and no cancer once we are transformed. But, we must never adopt the belief that we will be non-material, bodiless spirits. To deny that dead bodies will actually come to life is to deny the resurrection.

The Heavenly City: Part 2 – The Resurrection Will Be Bodily

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, as heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
– Hebrews 11.13-16

In part 1 it was observed that in a sense, Christians are heirs of Abraham’s land promise. Yet it is important to recognize, that according to the book of Hebrews, this land promise was never intended to be fulfilled in an earthly city or an earthly country.  We must not think that the Christian hope is somehow limited to the land of Canaan or the earthly city of Jerusalem. Just as Abraham was looking forward to a heavenly city, so we look forward to fulfillment of the land promise in that same heavenly city.

If you haven’t read part 1 yet, please read it here.

But what does that mean? If our hope is “heavenly”, what does that mean about the resurrection? Can we actually have bodies in the heavenly city? Or will we simply be bodiless spirits floating somewhere up above the clouds?

To answer these questions, it is important to recognize two things.

  • The author of Hebrews assumed that bodily resurrection was a foundational Christian doctrine

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. – Hebrews 6.1-2

  • There is a sharp distinction between “heavenly” and “earthly”, but this distinction is not a distinction between “material” and “non-material”

The book of Hebrews doesn’t force us to choose between either a heavenly hope or a bodily resurrection. It holds these two together in one unified picture of hope.

Hebrews’ Contrast Between Heavenly and Earthly

The country we will receive is “heavenly” because it is not “earthly.” There is a big difference between the two and it is very important that we maintain this distinction. But as we seek to maintain a distinction between the “heavenly” and the “earthly”, it is important that we notice how the book of Hebrews describes that distinction.

The primary point of distinction between “heavenly” and “earthly” is not what many assume it to be. It is not a distinction between a “spiritual” existence (in the Hellenistic, non-bodily sense of the word) and “material”. It is not a distinction between “up there” and “down here”.

The main point of “faith” in Hebrews 11 is that it looks forward to what has been promised but has not yet been received. Just as Noah acted on a promise when he built the ark (11.7), so Abraham acted upon a promise when he waited for the heavenly city. For whatever other differences there may be between “heavenly” and “earthly”, the primary point of contrast, according to the author of Hebrews, is a contrast between that which “now is” and that which “will be”. It is a contrast between the present world and the future world (11.13).

We can at present see cities designed and built by men. Only by hope can we see the “city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11.10). We can at present see earthly counties. Only by hope can we see the “better country” which God has prepared (11.16). We are at present “strangers and exiles” in our earthly countries. By hope, we seek a country prepared by God which we can call our own (11.13).

The author of the book of Hebrews speaks further of this “heavenly city” in chapter 12, where he identifies it as the “heavenly Jerusalem.”

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. – Hebrews 12.22-23

Here, in speaking of the “city of God” we read about the “spirits of the righteous” who are currently enrolled in heaven. This is presumably the spirits of the departed righteous who are waiting for the resurrection day.  This is consistent with other scriptures that speak of us departing from our bodies upon death, and going to be with Christ (read more on this temporary state of the righteous dead here). But even so, this seems to be an intermediate state, for the text goes on to speak of another day still in the future, in which both heaven and earth will be shaken, so that what God intends to last forever may do so.

But now He has promised, saying “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression “Yet once more” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude. – Hebrews 12.26b-28a

That which is currently on earth and in heaven will be shaken. That which we are to receive cannot be shaken. It will be more solid and more enduring than what we now experience. As we envision this heavenly city, we must not think it will simply be a resuscitation of the same old, deteriorating, fragile earth we presently know.

The same point is restated briefly in Hebrews 13.14.

Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

In summary, we must not think that Abraham was promised a land built, designed, or founded by man. We are not looking forward to an earthly country that is fragile and shakable like the ones we now know. The land promise was never intended to be fulfilled in the earthly country of Israel. We are looking forward to a city which is designed, built, and founded by God, which will be far more enduring and unshakable. The book of Hebrews describes these as the ways in which our hope is “heavenly”, not “earthly.”

Is it possible that the “heavenly” and “earthly” are different in ways far beyond these differences described in the book of Hebrews? Perhaps so. But whatever other contrasts there may be, we must not assume that the Hebrew author held to a view of the “heavenly” city as a place “up in the sky” for “bodiless spirits” in a purely “non-material” state. We must not make this assumption lest we deny what the Bible teaches as the foundation of Christian hope: The material, bodily, resurrection from the dead.

The Importance of Bodily Resurrection

The author of Hebrews assumes that the “resurrection from the dead” is among the most basic of all Christian doctrines (6.2). Abraham himself had faith in God’s ability to raise dead people back to life (11.19). In Hebrews 11.35, women endured torture, not because they hoped to be released from their physical bodies, but because they believed they would obtain a “better resurrection.”  It is hard to see how anyone could have spoken of Jesus freeing “those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (2.6), unless they believed that death itself was actually reversed (as opposed to just being redefined).

From Philippians 3.20-21, we learn that Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, he was not just a bodiless spirit. Although His body was certainly different than it was before, the resurrection was a material resurrection. He walked, talked, and even ate fish. He could be seen and even touched. His resurrection actually left the grave empty. His body was spiritual, or as Peter described it, it was “made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3.18), but it was a material, tangible body.

Our bodies will be like his. Or as Paul describes it in Romans 8.23,

Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sonsthe redemption of our body.

For more on how the Bible describes the hope of bodily resurrection, read here.

Conclusion

The book of Hebrews does not force us to choose between a bodily resurrection and a heavenly city. It doesn’t force us to choose between Abraham’s land promise and a city built by God. It holds all these ideas together into one unified picture. The Christian hope is for a bodily resurrection, in a permanent city built by God, which is the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s land promise. When we speak of heaven, we must never so “spiritualize” our hope to the point that we deny the bodily resurrection.

Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. – Hebrews 13.20-22

The Heavenly City: Part 1 – The Land Will Be Heavenly

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. – Hebrews 6.1-2

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. – Hebrews 13.14

God never promised the church the land of Israel. But as we oppose the hope of an earthly kingdom, we must not so “spiritualize” our vision of heaven that we end up denying the bodily resurrection of the dead.

The book of Hebrews describes the Christian hope as the “heavenly” country (11.16) and the “heavenly Jerusalem” (12.22) For many, when they read of this heavenly hope, they envision some sort of non-material, non-bodily, eternal life up above the clouds. Before we conclude that the Christian hope is simply “going to heaven when we die” as bodiless spirits, we must remember that the author of Hebrews assumed that the bodily resurrection of the dead was a foundational Christian doctrine (6.1-2). We are not forced to choose between either a heavenly hope or a bodily resurrection. The author of the book of Hebrews holds these two together in one united picture of hope.

The purpose of this two part article is to examine the Christian’s heavenly hope as it is presented in the book of Hebrews.

Background: Abraham’s Land Promise

He was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. – Hebrews 11.10

The heavenly city is introduced to us in the context of Abraham’s faithful response to the land promise. This promise is repeated several times throughout the book of Genesis, and is developed into one of the most prominent themes in the Old Testament.

And He said to Him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” – Genesis 15.7

I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. – Genesis 17.8

It is sometimes thought that the land promise ceases to play a role in the New Testament. While it is true that the church is never promised an earthly country, it is important to recognize that the author of Hebrews builds on this land promise as he develops his picture of the heavenly city.

Note that in Genesis 17.8, it reads “I will give to you and your descendants after you, the land of Canaan.” The promise of the land was not just given to Abraham’s descendants. It was also given to Abraham himself. But as we continue reading Genesis, we see that with the exception of a small burial plot (Gen. 23) Abraham was never given possession of the land.

Stephen the martyr, in reflecting on this promise, noted that Abraham never received what he was promised.

God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that “He would give it to him as a possession and to his descendants after him.” – Acts 7.4b-5

Hebrews gives us insight into Abraham’s mindset towards this land promise.

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God….

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, as heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
– Hebrews 11.8-10; 13-16

Abraham did not assume that the land promise was limited to the earthly borders of an earthly nation. Although he lived in Canaan, he dwelt there as a stranger and exile, still awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise. As Abraham looked for the fulfillment of God’s land promise, he looked forward to what Hebrews calls the “heavenly” country and the “city” prepared by God.

Heirs According To The Promise

The Christian hope is found in this same heavenly city.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem – Hebrews 12.22

We receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken. – Hebrews 12.28a

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. – Hebrews 13.14

We learn from Galatians 3.29 that all those who have faith and are baptized into Christ are “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” From the book of Hebrews we learn that, in a sense, we are heirs of the land promise. The heavenly city, introduced in Hebrews 11 as the fulfillment of Abraham’s land promise, is developed in Hebrews 12-13 as the heavenly city for which Christians hope.

In this sense, we are heirs of the land promise. However, we must not misunderstand the nature of this promise. The promise was never intended to be fulfilled in an earthly city or an earthly country.  We must not think that the Christian hope is somehow limited to the land of Canaan or the earthly city of Jerusalem. Just as Abraham was looking forward to a heavenly city, so we look forward to fulfillment of the land promise in that same heavenly city. What Abraham hoped for is what we hope for. And since Abraham never set his hopes in an earthly county, and neither should we.

Does this mean that Abraham was simply longing to “go to heaven when he died” and live eternally as bodiless spirit? Is this what Abraham had in mind when he longed for a heavenly city? Is this what the author of Hebrews believed would be the fulfillment on the land promise? What is the nature of the heavenly country?

Please continue reading Part 2 here.