Ques. 57. What comfort doth the “resurrection of the body” afford thee?
Ans. That not only my soul immediately after this life shall be taken up to Christ its head; but also that this my body, being raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul, and made like unto the glorious body of Christ.
Ques. 58. What comfort takest thou from the article of “life everlasting”?
Ans. That since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life, I shall inherit perfect salvation, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man” to conceive, and that, to praise God therein for ever.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22
I believe in God.
These two articles bring us to the conclusion (should I say, climax?) of our confession of the Christian faith as summed up in the Apostolic Creed. We are reminded that throughout this confession we have been privileged to place the triune, covenant God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the foreground. He is the source of all our life as the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. He is the God of our salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ, in Whom and with Whom we have the victory of sin and death and are possessors of an inheritance which is laid away for us in safe keeping in the heavens. He is also the goal, the purpose of our lives, since by His Spirit He unites our hearts in the blessed hope that we shall dwell with Christ and all the saints in His presence, to behold His face in righteousness, to be satisfied with His fullness, to praise and adore Him throughout all eternity. For of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things. This God is my God by the wonder of His grace. I believe in GOD.
Our book of Instruction confronts us with the very personal question, “What comfort doth “the resurrection of the body” afford thee?”
As essential as oxygen is to the lungs, so essential is the hope of eternal life to the believer. No more than we can live without breathing can a child of God live without that blessed hope. Wending our way through the valley of the shadow of death, which we entered at our birth, we meet the struggles and trials of each day with our eye fixed on the light that shines at the end of the dark valley, the light of the eternal Day. We are born again unto a living hope that longs for the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, the only treasure that never fades away, which God has in safe keeping for us in heaven (I Peter 1:3, 4).
It is in this comfort that we live and die. We are told in our Catechism that this comfort consists of three parts. We look forward to a conscious life immediately after death. We anticipate the reunion of soul and body upon Christ’s return with the clouds. And we experience a strong yearning for the heavenly perfection of a covenant fellowship with God in Christ among all the saints in a new and perfect creation, world without end.
Life after death.
The question is often raised, After death what? Unbelief informs us that death is death. It adds that it is scientifically impossible for a soul to carry on a conscious life apart from the body. How will the soul see? hear? speak? Even in Reformed circles doubt is created as to how a loving God can cast sinners into everlasting torment. Is hell, then, but a threat? Then how do we know that heaven is more than an illusion?
Let unbelief rave, our faith rests securely in our God, so that we can confess with the inspired Psalmist, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). This is confirmed by our Lord Himself in the parable of the rich man who opens his eyes in hell, and of Lazarus who rests in Abraham’s bosom. This is obviously a parable, yet Christ did not intend to arouse false hopes in us, but spoke of a reality that compares with the figures of the parable. That reality is assured to the repentant murderer on the cross when Jesus tells him, “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Another evidence of life after death is given to us in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. Jesus did not enter an empty heaven, to reign there all by Himself, but He joined Enoch, Moses, and Elijah in their glorified bodies, as well as all the saints who had gone before. Revelation 6 speaks of the saints under the altar who cry with a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). As he waits to join the assembly of the saints before the throne, Paul confidently reminds us that when this earthly house of our tabernacle is broken down, we have a building of God, a house, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (II Cor. 5:1).
Therefore we are confident that when the hour of our departure has arrived we shall pass, as it were, through the revolving door of death, out of this temporal existence into our heavenly mansion with all its new relationships, splendor, and purposes., We leave this present vale of tears with tearstained eyes to be comforted as a child is comforted by its mother, having all our tears brushed away in eternal joy and glory; a glory so rich, so grand, so completely satisfying, that all the suffering of this present time will prove to be more than worthwhile in having brought us to such a great salvation.
This “intermediate state” is, nevertheless, still not our final perfection. Our souls will still be awaiting the reunion with the body. Moreover, the’ church of the redeemed will not yet be complete, for new members are arriving every day. And, finally, the heavens must still be renewed in that final transformation that joins heaven and earth together in glorious perfection. Yet, even so, the saints are already rejoicing before the throne with Christ in His exaltation.
The resurrection of the body.
We can appreciate the emphasis on Christ in this Lord’s Day. At death our souls will be with Christ, as He gathers the members of His Body unto Himself until all the elect are gathered in. Moreover, we will be completely restored in the image of Christ in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Besides that, our present bodies will be raised from the grave by Christ’s power. Still more, our present bodies will be transformed into the likeness of the glorious body that Christ now possesses in heaven. Finally, death will be completely swallowed up in victory. We will be with Christ and like Him in His glorious kingdom to live and reign with Him over the entire new creation.
The apostle Paul speaks of the mystery that takes place at the sounding of the last trumpet. The dead shall be raised incorruptible! The veil is already partially lifted from that mystery in the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Friday afternoon Jesus’ corpse was wrapped limb by limb, as also torso and head, in linen wrappings and laid away in a sealed tomb. On Sunday morning nothing of that corpse remained, nothing but the mute testimony of the empty linen clothes. The resurrection body had left its earthly wrappings, even as a plant emerges from a bulb. The tomb was vacated. Shortly after, Jesus appeared to the women, meeting them on the way as they walked home from the tomb. After that He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, and to the men of Emmaus. They all recognized Him as the Jesus they had known and loved. Some even touched Him. When they questioned whether it was He, He showed them the nail holes in His hands and feet. He proved that He was no ghost by eating in their presence. Jesus had a real body—the same body as before. Yet it had undergone an amazing change. It was no more bound to time and place. Closed, even locked doors could not prevent Him from entering a room. Suddenly He made Himself visible to the disciples, and as suddenly He faded out of sight. At the sea of Galilee the Lord repeated the miracle of the large catch of fishes. Again, as before, He called them to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. It was difficult for the disciples to understand the change that had come over Him. For even when He was not present He still knew that Thomas questioned His resurrection. There were mysteries here that seemed beyond human understanding. The apostle John expresses the sentiments of the other disciples quite succinctly when he writes, “And none of the disciples durst ask Him, Who art Thou?, knowing that it was the Lord.” They knew, yet they wondered, filled with amazement and questions. After forty days Jesus left them and entered into the cloud of glory before their very sight, so that they could testify that they had seen the risen Lord enter into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
Our present earthly bodies will be conformed unto the glorious body that Christ now possesses in heaven. This mortal body, that is subject to death since the time of our conception, will be raised to live eternally. This corruptible body, now burdened with weaknesses, sicknesses, and diseases, will be raised in incorruption. No one will ever say again, I am sick. This natural body that sees only earthly things, hears only earthly sounds, speaks only an earthly language will be raised to live a perfect life in heavenly fellowship and glory. Now we know in part, but then we shall know as we are known. Now we are still subject to sin and guilt, then all sin will be foreign to us!
Already in Paul’s day the question was raised, How can these things be? Faith answers, We expect our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, Who will change our vile bodies, that is, the bodies of our present humiliation, into the likeness of His exalted, glorious body. How do I know? My exalted Savior is given power to subdue all things, nothing excluded, to Himself forever (Phil. 3:21).
What is it? At this point we stammer for we venture to say something about that which beggars description and exceeds our fondest imagination. We can best follow the example of our Catechism, which in an instance like this simply refers us to Scripture to be reminded that life everlasting is the culmination of all those things which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” (I Cor. 2:9).
What is life? Let the scientist continue his research and the philosopher his vain speculations. GOD is Life! The triune, covenant God lives His own holy life in intimate fellowship in the dazzling brightness of His own glorious perfections. This God is our God, for He takes us into His heart and into His life, makes us heirs in Christ to a perfect salvation, that we may behold His face in righteousness and be satisfied with the fullness of His glory forever.
How do I know? I experience the beginning of this eternal joy through faith even now! To our God be the power, the glory forever!
I believe in GOD!!