This is something we confess as part of the Apostles Creed which we recite every first Sunday of the month. Since we are in the Easter season and Christ’s resurrection guarantees our resurrection, it is good to give some more thought to this matter. We know that if believers die, they will experience bodily resurrection when Christ returns.
The Apostle Paul said: 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4) Even Jesus himself told us: 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6)
Meanwhile, while we await our bodily resurrection, where do we go after we die? The Bible does not give us many details concerning this but we can be sure that we will be taken into the presence of Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul said: 6We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord… 8 and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5) Jesus said to the criminal on the cross: 43Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23) At our death, our soul leaves our body and goes home to be with Jesus. It is always great to be finally in our true home which Jesus has prepared in advance for us to return to (John 14:3). Still, when in Jesus’ presence, we continue to look forward to the resurrection of our bodies from the dead. Disembodied existence is not God’s ultimate purpose for us. He has something greater in store, that is, we live, soul and body, forever in the new heaven and the new earth. We therefore look forward to our bodily resurrection while we are alive, and continue to do so even after we die.
When Jesus finally returns and we resurrect from the dead, what kind of bodies will we be given? The Apostle Paul said: 21But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15) The term firstfruits refers to a first sample of an agricultural crop that indicates the nature and quality of the rest of the crop. Therefore, Christ is the first of many others who would also be raised from the dead, namely those who believe in him. Christ’s resurrection body is the pattern for our resurrection body. It is therefore helpful for us to look at him after his resurrection to have a glimpse of how our resurrected bodies would be like.
There is continuity between the earthly body and the resurrected body. Christ was raised in the same body he had before he died. That was why the tomb was empty and the scars in Jesus’ hands, feet and side remained so that his disciples were able to see in his hands the mark of the nails and feel his side with their hands (John 20:27). That was why the disciples could recognise Jesus. Otherwise, they would not be so bold as to testify that Jesus had resurrected from the dead and even went on to die for their faith. On a side note, the two disciples on their way to Emmaus were not able to recognise Jesus initially because “their eyes were kept from recognising him”. Subsequently, when their eyes were opened, they too were able to recognise him (Luke 24:16, 31).
If there is continuity between our current body and our resurrected body, people who have known us since our time on earth should be able to recognise us after we resurrect. This continuity also resonates with the fact that those who die in the Lord can rest from their labours “for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). Our labour on earth in the Lord’s service will not be in vain. The Lord will remember our deeds, people will remember our deeds and so will we. There is continuity! The Apostle Paul used the analogy from agriculture. He compared the resurrection of the body to how a plant grows from its seed (1 Corinthians 15:37-38). There is continuity in that the same seed that is sown becomes the plant that grows. Similarly, the same body we have now becomes our resurrected body. But just as the seed is transformed into a plant that has different qualities, our resurrected bodies will have qualitative differences as compared to our earthly bodies.
In what sense will our bodies be transformed? Again the Apostle Paul told us: 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonour; 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. (1 Corinthians 15) Our current bodies are perishable, dishonourable, weak and natural. But our resurrected bodies are imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual – imperishable since we will not get injured and we will not fall sick, age, or die; powerful for we will not be subject to stress or strain, weakness or tiredness; spiritual in that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit, fully under the control and influence of the Spirit and glorious, our resurrected bodies will be glorious because it will bear the image of God without any distortion.
If in our earthly bodies we can see, hear, smell, touch, eat and move and we enjoy these activities, then in our glorious state, we should be able to enjoy these even more as we commune with God and with each other in the new heaven and the new earth. In this glorious state, we do not need to be frustrated over our physical disabilities, our body aches, our chronic pain, our depression, our diseases and even our addictions. In this glorious state, the presence of sin is no more. The moment we put our faith in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, the penalty of sin is removed because Jesus has paid sin’s penalty on our behalf. As we grow in the Lord, we witness the power of sin being weakened as we submit ourselves to God’s Word and God’s Spirit in obedience and worship. When we have completed our journey on earth, we will be freed from the presence of sin. We will be perfect, attaining to mature manhood. Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Christ in us, the hope of glory – if we have put our faith in Christ, he lives in us through his Spirit, and we will share in his glory when he returns. Our surest hope rests in the fact that he himself has led the way!
Rev Lee Kien Seng
April 8, 2018