In the previous article, we discussed what the biblical teaching is on what our bodies will be like in the afterlife. As we noted in the previous article, when we are saved, our spirit becomes united with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Romans 6, 8, etc). As a result, the process of redemption of the entire human being begins to take place. After Jesus’ resurrection, his body was no longer simply animated by the natural functions of life (eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.), it was now fully animated by the Holy Spirit-fully redeemed. That is what will happen with us. Our entire selves, spirit and body will one day be fully redeemed. So we do get our body back, but they will be entirely different than they are right now.
Our bodies will no longer be limited to the bounds of natural animation, for it will be fully animated or characterized by the life the Holy Spirit will provide it. As such that will give it glorified characteristics, i.e. the ability to appear and disappear, and the ability to at the same time have real tangible qualities and characteristics. This is the state that our bodies will be in after the resurrection.
Having laid the foundation of what our bodies will be like, it is important to go on and look at the other pertinent texts related to the issue, as well as look at some of the common objections to this notion of the resurrection body.
Doesn’t Paul say that flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life?
The most common objection to the belief that we will have a real tangible (albeit spiritual) body comes from a misunderstanding of I Corinthians 15:50 where Paul says, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
For those who hold that there will be a non-physical existence in the afterlife, the objection is they see Paul saying that flesh and blood itself cannot inherit eternal life–hat in order to go to heaven and be a part of the heavenly existence, a person must shed all physicality. The idea for them is that, in heaven, we will live as disembodied spirits–as a sort of white light, wispy, ghost-like being. However, is this what Paul is saying here? Is it possible that Platonic philosophical notions are playing into this reading as we mentioned in the last article. I think so.
In I Corinthians 15:50 Paul says,
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” But like any text in the scripture, we need to read it in its total context to get the full picture of what is Paul is trying to say. And before we look at the context I am reminded again of Luke 24:39 where Jesus specifically says “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Critics of the Bible would say “Aha, here is a direct contradiction between Jesus and Paul.” Jesus says his resurrection body has flesh and bones, and Paul says that flesh and blood cannot go to heaven. So what is going on here?
No one would argue that Jesus could not go to heaven after His resurrection, and we all know that He did at his ascension. So at the outset, we are faced with the task of looking at the context of I Corinthians 15 in its entirety to understand Paul’s meaning.
Paul begins I Corinthians 15 as an answer to some questions that were being raised in the Corinthian church about the resurrection. Apparently there was some doubt about the resurrection completely-apparently the dominant Greek notion that the spirit is good and the body is bad, and when you die, you will never see your body again-hence the belief in no resurrection. The whole point of a resurrection, Paul will argue, is inextricably tied to the receiving of a body.
The Corinthians-at least some of them-scoffed at the idea of the resurrection. The regarded the idea of resurrection as being ridiculous and something that could not happen. They could not conceive of an afterlife with any physical characteristics (verse 35).
So Paul writes to them and he begins in verses 1-11 with a summary of the gospel message himself (the death, burial, and resurrection). His argument here is that the resurrection is tied to and tantamount to the truth of the gospel message. He says,
1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Paul, now having addressed the content of the gospel, namely the death, burial, and resurrection, he then addresses the issue at hand. He says in verse 12:
“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” See again, this was their belief. They didn’t believe that resurrection was possible.
After stating the issue at hand, Paul then tries to get them to understand the logical and necessary conclusion if there is no resurrection from the dead. In summary he says that if there is no resurrection, then Christ is not raised, and if he is not raised, then they are dead in their sins. For Paul Christ’s death on the cross was not enough-it did not complete the redemptive task of Christ in the world. Only the resurrection of Christ could completely undo the power of sin and death. Also the principle of the resurrection is tied to the receiving of the body back for an afterlife. Paul says in verses 13-19:
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Now in verse 20 Paul, uses an agricultural analogy-the bringing in of the first fruits. In the Old Testament the first fruits were the very first of the crops harvested. According to the Law of Moses, the Jews were to bring the first fruits of their harvest and present them as an offering to God. The idea was that it was an act that was done in faith that the rest of the harvest would be brought in soon. So with this background in mind, verse 20 becomes clear:
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Christ here is mentioned by Paul as the first fruits of those who have died in Christ. This means then that we (believers in Christ) are a part of that same harvest, those who will be brought in later (see v.23).
After this, Paul then goes on and explains the resurrection even further by giving an analogy of Adam being the first Adam and Jesus being the second Adam (see also verses 45-47). The first Adam introduced sin and corruption to the body and soul, and the last “Adam” (i.e. Jesus) introduced redemption to the body and soul. He says in verses 21-23:
21 For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming
Paul then makes a summary of the rest of Jesus’ redemptive work and some other points he wants to make. He says in verses 24-34:
24 …then [comes] the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all. 29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? 30 Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak [this] to your shame.
After this, Paul then addresses the question that is naturally begged from the answer of the first one. Paul has proven that there is going to be a resurrection body, but the question is begged…
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
In other words, “Ok, if there is going to be a resurrection body, then how exactly will it be raised? What will it be like?” Paul then goes on to answer that very question.
The first analogy he gives is that of planting and growing. For example if you sow an apple tree seed, and you put it into the ground, eventually you will have a new apple tree with new apples. Paul says that our bodies will die (and will be sown by being buried and placed in the ground), and the result will be a human with a new body. But here’s the thing-as we get into the context we will realize that Paul does not envision a spirit-only resurrection. What Paul envisions here is a spirit/new body resurrection. He says:
36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
Now Paul will go on and talk about the different kind of bodies that exist. The point Paul is trying to make with the Corinthians is that their big hang up is they cannot imagine having an afterlife with a physical body-to them that is ridiculous. Their concept is that the afterlife is purely a spiritual condition-hence there is no resurrection in their view.
So what is the reason for this hang up? Their problem is they have in their minds a resurrection of the body that they have right now-a body that is imperfect, aging, diseasing, etc. And what Paul is going to do is point out the fact that they have it all wrong. Resurrection is not about getting your old sinful corrupt bodies back, it is about getting bodies back that are complexly changed, new, and that are now controlled and animated by the Holy Spirit. He says:
39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one [flesh] of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the [glory] of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable [body], it is raised an imperishable [body]; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 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 here is where I think a lot of folks get confused. The last verse here in verse 44 says, “…it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…”
Now if we read that verse with a Western Greek-influenced mindset (a Platonic mindset), then we will read it as saying that the body dies, and in the resurrection we are purely spirit, meaning our entire makeup will be made up of spirit. But, if you remember, this notion simply cannot be so, because Jesus makes it clear after his own resurrection that this is not how the resurrection body will be (see Luke 24:36-39). It will not be made up of entirely spirit. So when it says that we receive a “spiritual body,” what exactly is Paul saying?
In verse 44 Paul is making a contrast between the body we have now and the body that we will have in the resurrection. He says that the body that we have now is a “natural body,” and the body we will have in the resurrection is a “spiritual body.” In order to properly understand the contrast that Paul is making here, we need to understand what the two words, “natural,” and spiritual,” mean as they are used by Paul.
The “Natural” Body - The word for “natural” here in the text is the Greek word (psuchikon) which comes from the word psuche, or “soulish” body. Now to understand this term we have to remember that the word “soul” as it is used all throughout the Old Testament (and subsequently how it is thought of in the mindset of Paul), applied to both humans and animals.
To have a soul meant you had the breath of life-a natural vitality that is connected to the creation. The language here has to do with what sustains you. Animals sustain their lives in much the same way humans do-by eating, sleeping, exercising and resting. The principle of life and animation comes naturally through creation and the natural functions of life. So the point here when it comes to the “natural” body is what animates it and gives it its life? In this case it is sustained by completely natural and earthly means (food, water, etc).
The “Spiritual” Body - Paul contrasts the “natural” body with what he calls the “spiritual” body. The word here for “spiritual” in the Greek is (pneumatikon), which comes from the word pneuma, which is the word for spirit. It can be translated as “spirit” (with a lower case “s,” i.e. our spirit), or “Spirit” (with a capital “S,” i.e. the Holy Spirit).
So again, to understand how this term is being used here we have to understand the way it would have been used by Paul at the time of this writing. If one carefully takes the time to study how the word pneuma is used all throughout the letters of I and II Corinthians, one will discover that in each case, when the term pneuma is used, it is always talking about the Holy Spirit.
Just to use one example, Paul in I Corinthians 3:1 says, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.” In the context here, Paul is saying that because they are being spiritually immature, he cannot speak to them as spiritual men (men led by the Holy Spirit). Why? Because in contrast, they are being men who are being controlled by the old sinful nature, i.e. “men of the flesh.” The context here is about the difference between being led by the Spirit of God (being spiritual), and being led by the flesh (being natural).
Getting back to our text in I Corinthians 15, I believe that Paul has the same kind of word usage in mind. When he says that believers will have a spiritual body, I don’t read that as a immaterial body. Again, the point is what is the source of life? And if we read that word “spiritual,” as in the Holy Spirit, then what Paul is saying is that we will receive a body whose source of life is the Holy Spirit.
So in contrast to the natural body that is sustained by eating, sleeping, exercising and resting, the spiritual body will be sustained and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The principle of life and animation will no longer come naturally through creation and the natural functions of life; it will come through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the resurrection, the Holy Spirit will be the source, the energy, the empowerment, and the sustaining vitality of life.
The Word “Body” – One further observation needs to be made in this text. The word here for “body” is the Greek word (soma). In every case that the word soma is used in Paul writings, it refers to the physical body. So whether Paul is talking about the natural body or the spiritual body, either way, he is referring to a real tangible body. Again, what makes the difference is what animates it. It is either animated (given life), by natural means or by supernatural means.
So in summary, to have a spiritual body is not to have a spirit without a physical body, it is to have a body that is animated and given full life by the Holy Spirit. After the resurrection, the person who has a resurrection body will not be a person whose life is sustained by the blood flowing through their veins. They will be a person who is alive because the Holy Spirit that indwells them gives them their life. Their life will not be derived from eating and drinking, but it will be derived by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our bodies and in our spirit.
So when we see Jesus on the shore of Galilee, eating breakfast with his disciples (after his resurrection), the food that he was eating was not giving him the life necessary for him to live. His real physical body had been changed. His body was now spiritual-fully animated and enlivened by the Spirit of God.
Now having said all of this, we can now move on to the next part of Paul’s argument here where he is going to again, make a contrast between Adam and Jesus. He says:
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam [became] a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
The First Adam: Adam
In this life, the first Adam had a natural body, and it was animated, controlled and sustained by flesh and blood–natural means, i.e. blood, heart, eating, and drinking, etc. In other words that is the source of his life.
And Adam’s body, because of sin, became corruptible, that is, it was sinful through and through. The life that it had through natural means could not sustain it for eternity. It was natural and controlled by the natural. Another term Paul uses throughout his letters is the flesh.
Whenever Paul uses the term “the flesh,” he means the sinful nature of man, the old man-the making, working, thinking, and doing of the fleshly passions and desires. When Paul thinks of the flesh and the natural man, he is thinking more about sin, decay, bondage–the enslaved sense of being under the burden of a fallen reality. Because of the work that Christ has done on the cross, Paul sees that this bondage of the flesh will be lifted and the person in his totality (spirit and body) will be redeemed.
The Second Adam: Jesus
On the other hand the new Adam, Jesus, had a natural body that ate and drank (before the resurrection), but after the resurrection, that body was changed into a new body that could both eat and drink, and appear and disappear. It was a body that was animated, controlled and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ body, through the resurrection, was rid of any and all sin. It was made new as a new creation, yet it was still a body. He became glorified-which is the same promise for us and our own bodies (see Romans 8:-13, 23). Jesus’ body was no longer restricted to the life that is derived through natural means (eating and drinking, etc.), but was now fully controlled and enlivened through the powerful and mighty Holy Spirit of God.
So now we get back to the verse at hand. Again, Paul says in verse 50 “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Flesh and blood, the natural man, the man in the state of Adam, is a man controlled by the flesh and is given life only through natural means (eating and drinking)-that man indeed cannot and will never inherit the kingdom God. He will not because he cannot. He is diseased with sin from top to bottom.
Jesus, as perfect as he was, came to this earth and clothed himself in sinful flesh-not that he was in any way sinful, but he took on the sinful flesh with all of its desires, and he chose to be one of us-fully human and fully God. The point of his work was to undue the affects of sin…and of course he succeeded. That is why in his resurrection it says that he is glorified. It is to the glory of God that God was able to undue all the mess that we and Satan had done to God’s creation (the cosmos and ourselves as humans).
So Christ was the forerunner for us-the trailblazer if you will. And when we come to him and are baptized in him, the language used in scripture is that we clothe ourselves in Christ. The picture is beautiful. It is the scene of wrapping a holy garment around all that was sinful (body and spirit), and letting the work of God do for you what was done in Christ–that is, make you into a glorified human being. That is why Paul says the following in verses 51-58. And by the way, as you read this scripture take note of the “put on” language that he uses throughout these verses:
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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 shall be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 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.
So how do we know for sure that our resurrection bodies will be like his?
We’ve already covered the bulk of this in what we’ve already discussed, but some other scriptures that speak to this more directly are:
20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 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.” (Phil. 3:20-21)
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.” (I John 3:2)
What about 2 Corinthians 5:1-10? Does it teach that the resurrection body will not have any physical nature?
Before we wrap up this article, there is one more passage of scripture that we need to comment on that is used to try to bolster the idea that we will have spirit-only bodies in the resurrection-2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Again, let’s look at the whole context:
1 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. 2 For indeed in this [house] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord– 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight– 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Paul here is not arguing against us having a body in the resurrection. He says basically, “I don’t want to be found naked…without a body.” In other words, he is saying that he wants a body-just not the one that he has now–the one that is dying, corrupted and decaying. The body that he has now is the body of the first Adam. He says that he wants the body of the second Adam-Jesus.
He uses the clothing language again in verses 2-4 where he says that we long to be clothed with our heavenly body so that what is mortal (the bodies with have now), “…may be swallowed up by life.”
In verse 5 he says the promise of all this is seen in the fact that He gave us the Spirit as a pledge. The presence of the Spirit in our lives now, speaks to the past, present, and future dimensions of our salvation and redemption. The Spirit is present in us to complete the work of Christ in our justification, sanctification, and glorification of our spirit and our bodies. It is the Spirit’s role in our lives to bear within us the fruit of the Spirit, and to work to transform us into the image of Christ. This of course will happen completely in our resurrection when we will be fully transformed-i.e. glorified.
In verse 8 Paul says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Amen! And we will be with him in that way until the end of the age. At the end of the age the resurrection will take place. And as Paul says…
51 “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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 shall be changed.” (I Cor. 15:51-52)
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (I Thess. 4:13-17)
Paul in these verses states that at the last trump, Christ will come and bring with him, those who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ and he will raise them from the dead, i.e. the resurrection-giving them their glorified bodies. Those left on the earth alive will simply be changed right then and there (their natural bodies will be transformed to Spiritual bodies) and be caught up to be with the Lord in the air.
The general consensus of the entire Bible all the way up to the early church Fathers prior to 400 A.D. (around the time of Augustine and the heavy influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity), was that in the resurrection we receive our bodies back in a glorified eternal state.
I think we, like the Corinthians of Paul’s day, need to be very careful with what kind of lenses we read scripture. They interpreted resurrection to mean purely spirit-in the Greek Platonic sense of the word. Paul came from a Hebrew mindset that understood man as a unified whole (body and spirit), albeit wholly under the power and corruption of sin.
The redemption of Christ however was complete in the sense that Christ came to redeem everything that had fallen. In Christ we are made new inwardly, and we are being made new on a day to day basis. We will also be made new completely at our own resurrection, when even our bodies will be made new.
Paul envisions our hope for the future to be completely tied to the work of Christ. So therefore the resurrection and body that Jesus has is the same type of resurrection and body we will have.