What did Paul mean when he said that as Christians, our bodies will be raised from the grave? What will our spiritual bodies be like in heaven?
Like you, I have so many questions about what happens when we die. My most read Ask Roger article of all time—with millions of views—is about cremation! I think it’s natural to wonder what the future will be like, especially when one of our loved ones dies.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul dealt with this issue. Some of the Christians at Corinth were beginning to deny the basic Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead—a doctrine Jesus taught many times during His ministry and enacted with His own resurrection.
Paul clearly addressed the reason the resurrection of the dead is so important to the very heart of the Gospel, writing, “By this gospel you are saved … Christ dies for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve …” (1 Corinthians 15:2-5).
Our resurrection is also foundational. Paul continued,
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. … But Christ indeed has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” … then, when He comes, those who belong to Him (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).
I am always extremely grateful when God chooses to spell out a truth with a parable or illustration that helps to simplify a mystery. Paul compared the physical body to a seed, one that God has created “as he has determined.” But then when a seed is planted, it dies, coming to life again in another form. He finished his explanation this way:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 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 (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)
Here, we know that there is a physical body and a spiritual body. They’re completely different in nature. For me, two questions remain unanswered.
First, what does the process of resurrection look like? Second, what kind of body will we have when we are raised up?
THE PROCESS AND TIMING OF RESURRECTION
We know that Jesus was raised in a physical body, with “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). We will be raised like He was (Romans 6:5). And the Lord, in His power, “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).
Numerous biblical passages declare that we will be like Jesus, having a spiritual body fit for heaven.
Paul described in 1 Corinthians 15 and in 1 Thessalonians 1-4 an event known as the “Rapture” that will occur at the beginning or at the middle of the seven-year Great Tribulation. For some background, when the Tribulation begins, all hell will break forth on the earth. God begins to pour out His wrath out upon mankind. The antichrist and his forces mercilessly murder thousands of Christians and Jews.
At the Rapture, the graves of those Christians who have already died are opened, and they receive a spiritual body as they rise to meet Jesus in the sky. Christians who are alive at that time will have their bodies immediately changed into spiritual ones. Both groups proceed to heaven.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16)
Jesus also described the Rapture:
This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill, one will be taken and the other left. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (Matthew 24:39-42)
It is possible that Jesus was describing the Rapture as occurring not at the beginning or middle of the of the Tribulation, but at the end. A resurrection at this time would occur simultaneously with the Second Coming of Jesus, which is at the very end of the Great Tribulation. However, I hold to a Pre-Tribulation or Mid-Tribulation view of the Rapture (Please search my other “Ask Roger” articles for “Rapture” for much more information on this subject.)
COULD THERE BE TWO RESURRECTIONS?
Frankly, I see no reason why there couldn’t be two resurrections. The first would be at the Rapture at the beginning or middle of the Great Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4). The second resurrection would be post-resurrection and occur at the Second Coming, as described in Matthew 24.
By the way, I’ve long wondered about the bodies of the holy people which were raised during and after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 27:50-53;
The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs were open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Who were these people?
God tells us that their job was to proclaim the message of the Gospel and the resurrection of Jesus. Other than that, we don’t know how long they ministered or how God resurrected them. I doubt that He reburied them. Perhaps they were forerunners of the Rapture.
OUR SPIRITUAL BODIES
1 Corinthians 15:42 proclaims, “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”
We get a glimpse of what our resurrection bodies will be like when we recall Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances. In Acts 1-2, you can see that He still had visible wounds, and His disciples could physically touch Him. However, He was able to travel effortlessly and appear and disappear at will. He could go through walls and doors, and he could also eat and drink and sit and talk. Scripture informs us that our “earthly bodies” will be just “like His glorious body.”
What would it have been like to walk with Him on the road Emmaus, as Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas were discussing the day’s crucifixion events. Suddenly, Jesus was walking and talking beside them. He came to their house and revealed himself to them. They ate boiled fish together. They begged him to stay, but He had other duties to perform.
Mary was sitting by the open tomb talking to a man she didn’t know. As the man gradually revealed more about Himself, she suddenly recognized that this is Jesus. Jesus instructed her to tell the disciples what had just happened. Moments later, He was suddenly with them.
Two weeks later in the Upper Room, Thomas touched His body which had flesh and blood. It was a real body. He became a believer. He even ate broiled fish. (See Mark 16:40; Luke 24:1-2; Luke 24:37-40).
What would it have been like to see Him appearing and disappearing at will? “Beam me up” is one of the most famous catchphrases from the “Star Trek” series. It’s the command issued when a character wishes to teleport from a remote location back to the Starship Enterprise. Could it be something like that? His body seems to transcend time and space.
Take a look at Philippians 3:20-21;
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Most Christians imagine that we will be spirits of one kind or another. But our spiritual bodies are much more than just spirits!
The fact that our bodies will be like Jesus is important to remember because we tend to look at a spirit as being some kind of nebulous body floating around somewhere. But this is not the case. All the things that Jesus could do in his spiritual body; we will be able to do in ours. We know that because our bodies will be just like His body.
The bodies we have now become sick and die; but they will be full of glory when they become spiritual bodies. They are weak now, but when we experience resurrection, they will be full of strength. They are just human bodies at death, but when they are resurrected, they will be super- spiritual human-like bodies.
We will spend eternity in an actual body that is custom designed by God to make us fit to live and maneuver in the heavenly spiritual realms.
HOW MUCH OF THE BODY IS NEEDED FOR RESURRECTION?
What about a piece of a body that was smashed to pieces in an airplane crash? Will that piece be enough?
What about those who were drowned in the depths of the ocean whose bodies disintegrated and floated away a long-time ago?
What about those who have been blown into a million bits by explosions in war?
Is one molecule enough to rebuild a body? How about one strand of DNA?
Our infinite Creator God will not have to use our physical bodies. Cells are dying and being replaced all the time. Did you know that there is not one cell in your body that you had three years ago?
Of course, God can certainly make for us any kind of spiritual body that He chooses. After all, if He can create the universe out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3), He can certainly fashion a body out of nothing.
Be encouraged! Paul closes his teaching on the resurrection body with great hope:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthian 15:49-50, 52-53)
I hope this is helpful to you and gives you hope for our future in heaven!