Lord’s Day 22

Question 57. What comfort doth the “resurrection of the body” afford thee?

Answer. That not only my soul after this life shall be immediately 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.

Question 58. What comfort takest thou from the article of “life everlasting”?

Answer. 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.

Quite often the Apostles’ Creed is recited at the graveside of a loved one, and it ends on this beauti­ful, encouraging, comforting, and hope-filled last note: “I believe the resurrection of the body and the life everlast­ing. Amen.” Physical death is not the end, but for the believer it is a door of hope and the beginning of a new eternal day.

The Intermediate State

This refers to what happens to me after death, and before the general resurrection at the return of Christ. My soul and body belong together, but death tears them apart from each other. The dead body is buried in the grave and deteriorates. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). But what happens to the soul?

Some say the soul sleeps, that it enters a state of uncon­sciousness until the day of Christ’s return when the body will be raised again. Others say the soul is annihilated, that death is the end of a person’s existence. Still others say that it goes to a place of temporary suffering called purgatory. None of these is biblical, and all of them are invented by man to soften the reality of death for unbe­lievers.

At death, the souls of those who do not believe in Jesus Christ pass immediately into the everlasting torments of hell. In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man opened his eyes “in hell,” “being in torments” (Luke 16:23). This is what makes death so frightful for an unbeliever. There is no second chance beyond death.

However, at death the souls of believers immediately and consciously enter into the presence of Jesus Christ, their Savior. We know this because this is what God has told us in His Word. “Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” In these well known words of Jesus from the cross (Luke 23:43), He promised to meet the dying thief that same day in the place of bliss called “paradise.” Paul says (Phil. 1:23) that he has “a de­sire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” “To be absent from the body” is to “be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8). Knowing this, Paul viewed death as “gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The Resurrection of Our Bodies

The focus of Scripture, when it speaks of the after-life, is the resurrection of our bodies. The intermediate state of the soul is temporary. There is coming a great and glo­rious day when there will be a resurrection of every dead human being, a reuniting of body and soul. In John 5:28-29 Jesus says that “the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

I Corinthians 15:51 calls this resurrection a great mystery. There are a lot of things about that resurrection that we do not know and cannot understand on this side of the grave. That is because the resurrection event, and the bodies that we will be given, will be so remarkable and wonderful.

The Bible tells us, on the one hand, that the very same body that we have now will be raised. Job confesses, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26). The resurrection will be a miracle. After death our bodies decay into dust. Some bodies are torn or blown apart, some are eaten by wild beasts, some disappear in the depths of the ocean—and yet the essence of our present human body will be brought together and raised. That is because my physical body is who I am. I am body and soul, and if I am going to live beyond death, then my body must be raised and reunited with my soul.

This implies several things. First, in glory, we will recognize one another. The things that distinguish me as an individual here on the earth will distinguish me also in heaven. Second, we shouldn’t think of our physical bod­ies as essentially evil, something like a cage for the soul that will be disposed of in the end, and so can be abused in the present. God has redeemed us, body and soul, and so our bodies too must be cared for and used to His glory (I Cor. 6:20). Third, we should treat with respect the remains of our loved ones when they die, by giving them an honorable Christian burial.

On the other hand, though I will have my very own body, the resurrection will be an amazing transforma­tion. The curse of sin will be lifted from our bodies and “our vile body” will be changed by Christ, and “fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Our resurrec­tion will not be like that of Lazarus and others who rose from the dead in Bible times in the same kind of body in order to live on the same sinful earth. Rather, it will be like Jesus’ resurrection body, which was transformed and adapted to live in the glories of heaven.

In I Corinthians 15:42-44 a contrast is drawn. Now our bodies are corruptible and will be buried in corrup­tion, but they will be raised in incorruption. The body that now deteriorates and wears out with age will be made to live for ever. Here our bodies are buried in dis­honor, but then they will be raised in glory, free from all imperfections, deformities, diseases, and ailments. Our present body is weak, but our new body will be raised in power, without physical, spiritual, and mental weakness­es. Our bodies now are physical, but we will be raised in spiritual bodies something like the mysterious spiritual body Christ had after His resurrection.

Though there is something final about burying human remains, death is not the end for believers. The Bible says that our bodies are “sown,” much as you would sow a seed in the ground in the hope that it will spring up into a plant. Believers who die are described as sleeping in Jesus (I Thess. 4:14), in the hope of waking again when Jesus comes to call us from our graves. We should think about these two illustrations when we stand at the grave of a loved one who has died in the Lord.

Unbelief views the resurrection as absurd and impos­sible. The resurrection is a uniquely Christian hope. The power and possibility of our being raised is in Jesus Christ, who in the cross vanquished the curse of death, and then arose because death had no power over him. Je­sus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus has the keys of hell and of death (Rev. 1:18), and His resurrection as the firstfruits means that all who believe on Him will also be raised.

The unbelieving reprobate will also be raised, but rather than receiving a glorious body adapted for life in heaven, they will be raised “to shame and contempt” (Dan. 12:2) in bodies that are adapted to suffer the torments of hell to eternity without reprieve. How fearful that day will be for the unsaved.

Joy Unspeakable

“Everlasting life” is the Bible’s way of describing the experience of living in heaven. The Bible does not tell us a lot about heaven, because it will be spiritual in nature and we would not be able to understand it anyway. Ev­erlasting life is much more than perpetual existence. We should think of the quality of life in heaven, as well as the quantity. To live eternally is to know God face-to-face and to fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3). That will be the essence of heaven, and it will bring joy forever to the child of God. Heaven’s joy will be more intense and complete than all the joys of this earth put together. We can barely begin to imagine how glorious our life in heaven will be (I Cor. 2:9).

Everlasting life is not something we have to wait to receive after we die. Just as the unregenerate already today are dead in sin and experience God’s wrath, so the regenerated believer has in his heart the beginning of eternal joy. The Holy Spirit, who is the earnest of our inheritance and the giver of life, has already given us the first installment of eternal life. We feel and enjoy this in a life of love, intimacy, and walking with God today. When we die, it will simply get better. Think of Enoch, who walked with God, and then was taken. He went from glory to a greater glory.

When I in righteousness at last

Thy glorious face shall see,

When all the weary night is past,

And I awake with Thee

To view the glories that abide,

Then, then I shall be satisfied.

(Psalter 31)

Questions for Discussion

1. What happens to the soul of the believer im­mediately at death? Prove this from Scripture. How is this a comfort for you?

2. What happens to the soul of the unbeliever immediately at death? Why are the bodies of unbelievers also raised?

3. Describe what will happen on the day of Jesus’ return (see Matt. 25; John 5:28-29; Phil. 3:20-21; I Thess. 4:13-18). Do you long for that day?

4. What will your resurrection body be like? Will it be the same body that you have today?

5. If this body will be raised, how should I view and treat it today?

6. The Bible speaks of the resurrection as a “change” and “transformation.” What are some of the changes that you expect in the resurrection?

7. What two biblical illustrations should we think of when we stand at the grave? How are these comforting to us?

8. Use a concordance to find Bible passages that describe what heaven will be like. Discuss what some of these passages say about heaven.

9. How do we enjoy already in this life some of the joys of heaven?