The Resurrection Body

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Extreme Makeover featured Ty Pennington and his design team helping families—who were experiencing some type of ongoing or recent difficulty—by completely remodeling their home to meet their needs in a better manner. 

When a family was identified to receive a home renovation, the race against the clock would begin. Sometimes it would seem impossible for Pennington and his team to transform a house with so many problems into something desirable.

In a similar manner, it can be difficult to imagine “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” when “the earthly tent which is our house is torn down” (2 Cor 5:1). Continuing the closing thought of the previous chapter, Second Corinthians 5 contrasts the mortal “outer” person with the glorified “inner” dimension of human existence (4:16).

For the present, a paradoxical situation exists for the one trusting in Christ Jesus for salvation. For instance, salvation has been granted to those believing the gospel message of God’s grace through faith. The Holy Spirit permanently indwells the believer as “a pledge” of his or her “inheritance,” resulting in “every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3, 14). However, the fullness of salvation has not been granted, which includes the resurrection of the body at the Messiah’s coming. For this reason, the outer being “is decaying, yet” the “inner” person “is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). As the believer awaits the renewal of his or her physical existence at the resurrection, there is much comfort and joy in the present transformation of the inner person by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Second Corinthians 5 uses the common ancient metaphor of a house in reference to the human body, for the purpose of assuring believers that their earthly constitution—though subject to decay and eventually death—will “be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (v. 2). For the present, “we groan, longing” for the redemption of the body (cf. vv. 2, 4; Rom 8:23). Nevertheless, there can be apprehension in dying because one does “not want to be unclothed but to be clothed” with the immortal (2 Cor 5:4).

Presently, the believer groans (sighs) in anticipation of the heavenly dwelling. The reason is that God “has set eternity” within the heart (Eccl 3:11). Similar to a monetary down payment, God gives the Holy Spirit “as a pledge” (i.e. deposit, promise)—the first payment—thus guaranteeing the reality of the resurrection (glorified) body. Although one can only imagine or ponder the difference between the earthly and the heavenly, the desire “to be pleasing” to the Lord is certain (2 Cor 5:9).

Romans 8:1 assures, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “The judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10), therefore, is concerned with a believer’s evaluation in terms of reward (cf. Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 9:24-25; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 2:5; Rev 22:12). While the idea that a person “may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10), may not be the most pleasing of biblical topics, the Bible does certainly teach that the use of the human body is important to God. One never earns salvation through works; rather, a person’s good deeds give evidence of faith (trust) in God.

Having mentioned the present weak condition of the human body (4:16), in contrast to the “eternal weight of glory” (v. 17), Scripture gives attention to the tremendous changes that will occur with the resurrection (glorification) of the body. Life in the physical body is similar to living in an “earthly tent” (5:1). Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3), and thus was well aware of how appropriately the “tent” metaphor reflected the present human body. A tent is a weak, impermanent structure without much external appeal; the glorified body, however, will be “eternal” and never suffer decay or weakness (cf. Phil 3:20-21). The eternal body “from God” will lack all the imperfections of the earthly body.

As a result of infirmities and pains associated with one’s mortality, there are groans until the redemption of the body (2 Cor 5:2, 4). Groaning is not wrong if the appropriate result is achieved. Present sufferings should cause one to long for the glorified body that God has promised. Death is separation of the soul (spirit) from the body, resulting in the cessation of natural life. Scripture refers to death in a threefold manner. First, physical death is separation of body and soul (Jas 2:26), and this is the most common use of the word “death.” Adam began to die physically (“return to the ground,” Gen 3:19; cf. Eccl 12:7) when he violated the prohibition to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s sin is imputed to all humanity (Rom 5:12-21), and thereby every person incurs the penalty of physical death as a consequence (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12; 6:23; Jas 1:15).

Second, spiritual death is the separation of unregenerate humanity from God as a result of the sin nature. Adam’s soul was separated from God the moment he rebelled and his body began to die. Both physical death and spiritual death entered the world when Adam sinned. Physical birth results in physical life; however, only the second birth (rebirth) results in one being made alive (regenerated) spiritually. Spiritual death is overcome by spiritual regeneration (John 3:3-8; 1 Cor 2:12-13; Tit 3:5-7; 2 Pet 1:4).

Third, eternal death is the ultimate separation from God of those who die physically without ever being regenerated, or born again. In their natural state, human beings are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) and are progressing toward this ultimate spiritual death, unless made alive together with Christ Jesus (v. 5). Eternal death is contrasted with eternal life (John 5:28-29; Rev 20:6), and is imposed as the “second death” subsequent to the judgment at the “great white throne” (Rev 20:11-15). The eternal destiny of the unregenerate is determined at the time of their physical death; they are lost in hell (hades) and will remain there until the second resurrection (v. 13), when they will eventually and eternally be confined to the lake of fire.

All people will live forever somewhere, yet the destinies of the lost and the saved are vastly different. While the unbeliever is confined to hades (a place of torment according to Luke 16:23), the believer is immediately united with Christ (2 Cor 5:1-10) in a place of bliss, known as heaven (2 Cor 12:2; Heb 12:23) or paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4). Presently, if a believer dies, he or she will experience what is termed the intermediate state, which is a person’s condition between physical death and the resurrection of the body. The intermediate state is unnatural, because God created humanity to function and live within a body. For the believer, the intermediate state is an experience of conscious bliss in the presence of the Lord; however, for the unbeliever, it is a state of conscious torment. Contrary to popular thought, Christians do not become angels during the intermediate state, nor will they ever become angelic beings.

Believers will “inherit the imperishable” at the future resurrection of the body (1 Cor 15:50, 52). Presently, however, believers who have died prior to that time will be in a disembodied state. Scripture reveals that this intermediate state is preferable to earthly life (2 Cor 5:2-5) because, presently, the believer groans, “being burdened” not only with the stresses of life, but also with physical ailments and limitations. Scripture describes this disembodied state as being “naked” (v. 3) and “unclothed” (v. 4), which implies that it is an imperfect and temporary existence; yet it is still preferable “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (v. 8). To be “at home” with the Lord is “pleasing to Him” (v. 9), which is meaningless if the soul is in a state of unconscious sleep. The immaterial being of the believer will never lose consciousness: though the intermediate state is a disembodied, incomplete condition, the believer is conscious of being “at home with the Lord” and enjoying the bliss of that experience. Truly, “to depart and be with Christ . . . is very much better” (Phil 1:23).

Those who have died in Christ are not disembodied spirits (“found naked,” v. 3), because the Bible consistently regards humanity as unified beings. The body is not merely a house for the soul (the real person), as in Platonic thought. Platonic teachings are sometimes said to have unduly influenced the idea of a disembodied soul. Plato did believe in the immortality of the soul and the mortality of the body. At death, the body released the imprisoned soul for eternity. Christianity and Platonism agree that the soul continues to exist without a body, yet the Bible distinctly teaches that humanity is incomplete without a body. The doctrine of the intermediate state is derived from the revelation of Scripture, not ancient Greek thought. Moreover, the human soul is not to be regarded as naturally mortal, as if a human being is a radical unity with no components (viz. when a person dies, so does the entire person: body and soul). God created humanity with immaterial and material components. To lack material substance is to be less than a complete human being.

There is no terror in death while believers long for the eternal body, since one of two possibilities exists: resurrection after death, or translation at the coming of the Lord. To die at present is to be temporarily disembodied (vv. 3-4, 8: “found naked,” “unclothed,” “absent from the body”). The believer’s hope is to receive the eternal body without having to experience death, which will be the reality of those who live until the coming of the Lord.

The believer’s anticipation is expressed as “longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (vv. 2-4), which is not wishing thinking because the Holy Spirit is given “as a pledge” for all that is needed in the future (v. 5).  “To be clothed” means being translated from an earthly mortal body to an eternal immortal body. The disembodied state is superior to existing physical life, for “to be absent from the body . . . [is] to be at home with the Lord” (v. 8). The greater preference is to be “clothed” with a new body at the coming of the Lord.

Midnight Call - 09/2022

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