What is the bodily resurrection of the dead?
This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
Christians believe in a bodily resurrection, we do not believe simply in a spiritual state where our souls live forever. Christianity affirms that that our entire life is being redeemed, which includes our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our spirits. In fact, the apostle Paul is so determined to establish the Christian view of the resurrection body that he links the resurrection of our bodies in the future with the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the past. Paul teaches that if Christ has not been physically raised, then we also will not be raised. If Christ has not been raised, then we have no hope, we are to be pitied, we are still in our sins. In 1 Corinthians 15:16, Paul says, “for if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.”
The whole certainty of our faith in the general, bodily resurrection at the end of time is linked to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostles’ Creed first declares, “on the third day he rose again from the dead,” and then goes on to affirm that we believe in the “resurrection of the body.” The Resurrection of Christ is the key and the foundation for our own resurrection from the dead.
In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul declares, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Notice how he avoids the word “death” in regard to us, because that word has a finality to it; and in Christ, death does not have the final word. The Bible refers to the first death and the second death. The first death is the one we know about. It refers to the fact that our bodies are decaying and rushing towards the grave. One day you wake up and notice that you don’t run up steps like you used to. You might notice some aches and pains which weren’t there before. These are gentle reminders that our bodies in their present form are not built for eternity. We may dye our hair, watch our weight, or exercise vigorously, but we all know that our bodies in their present form are dying. Unless Christ returns in our lifetime, we will someday all physically die. This is the first death.
The Scriptures speak of a second death in Revelation 20:6. This refers to eternal death apart from Christ. For the believer in Christ, the second death has no power over us. Our sins have already been judged in Christ. They have been paid for through the power of the cross and we are not subject to eternal judgment. So, once that is removed, Paul doesn’t even want to use the word “death” for us. He simply evokes a euphemism and says, “those who have fallen asleep.” For us, our physical death is like falling asleep. In other words, it is like sleep in the sense that one day we will wake up to a new Day, but not just any day—the Day of Resurrection.
Christians believe that our resurrected body will be a splendorous, glorious body. While there are continuities between our present body and the resurrected body, it is mostly a transformed body (1 Cor. 15:35–42). Paul likens it to a kernel of corn compared with the full stalk. This is far more than just a retooling of the body we have. This will not be like one of those famous “before” and “after” shots on a diet commercial. This is a splendorous transformation which we can hardly imagine.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
It is sown in dishonor [sickness and sin], 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 15:42–44
Your resurrection body will be imperishable, not subject to decay. It will be glorious. It will be powerful. It is called a “spiritual body,” which brings together two words into one phrase—body and spirit. It is an unusual combination, but it is not a mere spiritual existence; it is a bodily existence which is constantly vivified and empowered through his spiritual life. We will live forever because our life is tied to his life, and since God cannot die, we will not die—but instead, will enjoy an everlasting life.
1 Corinthians 15:12–57