Two Questions about Our Bodies After Death
This past month a church member asked me a question about whether believers have physical bodies between death and the Rapture. Since this topic came up in our sanctuary ABF, I thought I would put it here. I've also included some thoughts from a sermon I preached in 1 Corinthians 15 about what kind of bodies we will have in the future resurrection.
Will Believers Have Physical Bodies Between Death and the Rapture?
This is not as clear in Scripture as other doctrines. We’re talking about the intermediate state of believers. It’s the state between death and the rapture. Where are we? Well we are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:8), so we are in heaven. However, do we have bodies or not at that point? that’s the controversy. When I was in college I wrote a paper explaining in part why I believed we had an intermediate body until we were united with our own bodies. However, now I don’t believe that. Here’s what my doctrinal statement from my ordination says.
I believe the next prophetic event to be fulfilled will be the coming of the Lord in the air to rapture all believers of this age. It is an imminent (Jn. 14:3; Phil 3:20; Titus 2:13), pre-tribulational and premillennial (1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 2:3-8), and personal return (1 Thess. 4:13-18) of Christ at which time the body of each dead Christian will be united with his spirit and living saints will be taken from the earth to meet the Lord in the air.
Notice it doesn’t talk about the intermediate state. That was probably purposeful. The less you say at an ordination, the less you can get quizzed on. ;)
So it’s not clear in Scripture, but there is no inherent problem with a disembodied existence for the believer. The soul/spirit can survive without a body (Mt 10:28). Several passages talk about death for a Christian as the death of the body, but not the soul/spirit (Acts 7:59; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:8; Rev 6:9-10). Since Scripture never talks about Christians having bodies in the intermediate state, to believe so is based on speculation. Sometimes we guess because Scripture doesn’t say. However, here I think it’s safer to assume that our souls will exist apart from our bodies with Christ in heaven between death and the rapture. We will have a conscious existence; it just won’t be with a body. At the Rapture our souls will be reunited with our bodies which will also be glorified. From then on we will have a body for all eternity.
Will We Have the Same Body when We Are Resurrected?
Now as to whether we will have the exact same body we had when we died I believe there will be some differences.
• 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (NKJV), But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
In verse 35 Paul is answering the question, “What kind of a body does a resurrected saint have?”
First century culture looked at the human body in some unique ways. Greek Gnostics believed that the body was evil; therefore, a bodily resurrection seemed like a bad idea to them. Why would you want to resurrect the source of evil—the human body? We don’t believe that your actual body is the source of your sin. If you could live without a body in this life, you would still be a sinner. Sin is in you—the real you, not your outward, bodily shell.
If you look at 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul gives us a theology of the body in that paragraph. What you do with your body matters to God. Your body is the vehicle used to either glorify God or please yourself. But it is not the cause of your sin like the Greek Gnostics believed.
Supposedly Jewish rabbis believed that the resurrection body was identical in every way to the earthly body. It was the same exact body. They believed in a general resurrection, but they expected it to be the same body that went into the grave. Well, Paul is going to teach us that it’s not the identical body that went into the grave.
There is connection between physical bodies and resurrection bodies—there is continuity. In other words, they are not completely different. That’s what the analogy of the seed communicates.
The passage uses a simple illustration. Everyone knows that the plant doesn’t look at all like the seed that sprung it. The seed actually must die for the plant to come forth. Germination causes the seed to disappear—to die. Generally, the seed is gone, but the plant comes from the seed. Farmers don’t harvest seeds; they harvest plants. If all you wanted was seeds, then buy more packets of seeds. Don’t even plant them. But that’s not what any farmer wants.
It dies as a seed to spring forth as a plant. Even though the seed is dead; it is “resurrected” or brought to life in the plant.
The plant is something completely different from the seed, yet it’s not. There is continuity between the seed and the plant.
So what do we learn from this illustration? You don’t get a new body until the old one dies. You will have a better body someday. Your physical body is the bare seed of what will be when you are raised. Why do we need a better body? Since this entire world is under the curse of sin, even our bodies must be redeemed.
Christ’s resurrected body is the pattern for ours. It was the same, but different. Christ’s resurrection body was His body, but it was also different. His Resurrection body went through walls; it appeared out of nowhere. • Luke 24:15 (NKJV), So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. • Luke 24:36 (NKJV), Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” • John 20:19 (NKJV), Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
So it was different. However, His followers could recognize Him. • Luke 24:31 (NKJV), Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
So there was continuity between Christ’s physical body and His resurrection body.
Verses 35-38 indicate that your resurrection body will be different, but still recognizable as you. It will change, but still be you. You will still be you, but with a much better body. Paul didn’t believe that the same body you had at death is what is raised. It has continuity with your original body, but it is different. It’s the same body only…different.
Your loved ones that have died in Christ will still be your loved ones, but with much better bodies. And they’ll be recognizable. If you knew them in this life, you will know them in the next life.