This article discusses the events that will occur concurrent with the return of Christ. It focuses particularly on the resurrection of the body. The author discusses the nature, timing, and author of this resurrection, and addresses some common pastoral questions in relation to this bodily resurrection.

Source: The Outlook, 1998. 13 pages.

Concomitants of the Second Advent: The Resurrection of the Body

The Bible's teaching about the future may be divided into two broad ar­eas, individual and general eschatology. Individual eschatology, as the lan­guage suggests, addresses the Bible's teaching about what happens to individuals, particularly believers, in the state between death and resurrection at the end of the age. General eschatology addresses the Bible's teaching on the future in gen­eral or in terms of the unfolding of the Triune God's purposes in history, leading up to the return of Christ at the end of the age.

This article will take up imme­diately those events that will accom­pany the return of Christ. In my study of these events, I am us­ing the phrase chosen by Charles Hodge in his Sys­tematic Theology to describe them — the concomitants of the second advent.1 Though this language is not the kind we might use over the counter at the coffee shop, it nicely captures the idea: we are looking at those events that, according to the Scriptures, will occur in the company of Christ's return at the end of the age. When Christ returns, the Bible teaches that His reign as King will be consum­mated by means of a se­ries of great acts of redemption and judgment. These events will draw this present age to a close and in­troduce the consummation of God's purposes in the new heavens and earth. They will precede the final and enduring state of God's kingdom.

The events or concomitants of Christ's return that we will consider are these: the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust; the final judgment by Christ of all men; the punishment of the unbelieving and wicked in hell; and the creation of a new heavens and earth. As we do so, we shall have to be especially careful to remember: our hope for the future is one that is born out of and nurtured by the Word of God. When we stray from the sure path laid out for us in the Word, we are bound to go off in directions that are specu­lative and uncertain. If this is true for the future in general, it is most particularly true when it comes to the kinds of events that we will now be considering.

The Biblical Focus upon the Resurrection🔗

The first great event or concomi­tant of Christ's return at the end of the age will be the resurrection of the dead, including the just and the unjust.

The biblical expectation for the future of believers is not exclusively or even primarily focused upon what is often called the intermediate state. Though the Bible teaches that the believer's fellowship with Christ cannot be broken, even by death itself, and that at death the believer will begin to enjoy a more intimate and direct fellowship with Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-9), its teaching regarding the believer's future focuses primarily upon the resurrection of the body at the last day. In the biblical view of the believer's future, the emphasis falls not upon the "immortality of the soul," but upon the restoration and renewal of the whole person, body and soul, in a renewed state of integrity within the context of a new heavens and earth. The biblical promise for the future directs the be­liever to the resurrection, when both body and soul will be granted im­mortality.

This is, in fact, one of the distinc­tive features of the biblical view of the future and of the salvation that is obtained for us in Christ.2 The bib­lical view of the world begins with the conviction that the Triune God created man as a "living soul," taken from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). Man's creatureliness in its whole­ness and integrity, therefore, always includes the body which was created originally good. Redemption from the curse of God against sin likewise addresses the whole of man's need, body and soul. This is the reason the Heidelberg Catechism speaks, for example, of the believer's comfort in terms of belonging to Christ "with body and soul." Redemption does not deny the integrity and goodness of creation; it rather brings the heal­ing and renewal of creation. The same Lord who forgives all our sins is the One who "heals all our dis­eases," including that sickness of body and soul that leads to death (Psalm 103:3). For this reason, no bibli­cal picture of the believer's future may fail to include as a central part of it the promise of the resurrection of the body.

The Timing of the Resurrection🔗

Though this expectation is com­monly acknowledged by Christian believers whose doctrine is normed by the teaching of Scripture, there is another question that is often dis­puted — the question of the timing of the resurrection. As we have seen in previous articles, premillen­nialism teaches that the resurrection of the just will occur at the time of Christ's coming before the millennium and that the resurrection of the un­just will not occur until after the mil­lennium, at least one thousand years later. In this understanding, there will be at least two distinct resurrec­tions, one of the just and the other of the unjust, separated in time by the period of the millennium.3

The most decisive objection against this separation in time between these two resurrections is its incompatibility with the common as­sociation in the Scriptures of the res­urrection of both the just and the unjust. In one of the few direct ref­erences to the resurrection in the Old Testament, Daniel 12:2, we read that "many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting con­tempt." In this passage, the resurrection of be­liever and unbeliever are closely linked. A similar linking of the resurrec­tion of the just and the unjust is reflected in Jesus' words to His dis­ciples in John 5:28-29:

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

These words speak of an hour in which all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son, the righ­teous as well as the unrighteous. The simplest reading of this passage would indicate that Jesus is speaking here of one great event in which all of the dead will be raised for the pur­pose of judgment. Though some pre­millennialists suggest that this refer­ence to an hour might include a long period of time — appealing to the use of "hour" in verse 25 of the same chap­ter where it refers to the period in which the spiritually dead shall be brought to life — its meaning in these verses is parallel to its common mean­ing in the Gospel of John (compare e.g.: 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 16:21; 17:1). It refers to a distinct period in which God's purposes will be fulfilled. As in other Scripture passages (compare Acts 24:14-15; Matthew 16:27; 25:31-33; 2 Corinthians 5:10), the teaching of this passage clearly confirms that the resurrection of all the dead, believers and unbelievers alike, will occur at a single point of time in the future at the close of the age.

It is also interesting to note that, in the passage most often cited by pre-millennialists in support of their view of the millennium and two distinct resurrections, one before and one after the millennium, there is evidence that the resurrection and judgment will include all people, the believer and unbeliever alike. In Revelation 20:1-15, the vision of the final "great white throne judgment" that will occur after the millennium portrays "the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne" (v. 12). These dead not only include the great and small, but also all those whom the vision goes on to say were "given up" by the sea, death and Hades. All of these dead are then judged, "every one of them according to their deeds" (v. 13). As a consequence of this judgment, death and Hades, and "anyone's name (that) was not found written in the book of life," are thrown into the lake of fire, the second death. The description of the resurrection and judgment given in this vision clearly implies that all people are embraced and only those among them whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life are saved from the lake of fire. Were the vision only describing the resurrection and judgment of those whose names were not written in the book of life, the language describing this vision would be confusing at best, misleading at worst.

In addition to these passages that clearly associate the resurrection of the just and the unjust, there are also passages which teach that the resurrection of believers will occur on the last day, when Christ will be revealed from heaven and the sound of the trumpet will be heard. The obvious implication of this language is that this event will conclude the present age. With the resurrection of the believer, the last great event which brings to a close Christ's work of redemption in His children will be accomplished. In John 6:40, Jesus assures His disciples that He came in fulfillment of His Father's will and purpose, and that it was His Father's will "that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (emphasis mine). In the passage which speaks of the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the coming of Christ and the res­urrection of believers are associated with the call of the Archangel and the sound of the trumpet (v. 16; com­pare Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52). The implication of these and other pas­sages seems to be that, when Christ comes and the dead in Christ are raised, this will mark the close of the present age and introduce the glory of the age to come (compare Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:23).

Oftentimes, pre-millennialists who insist upon two resurrections sepa­rated in time will appeal to the lan­guage of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:23-24 in support of their position. These passages de­scribe a certain precedence and order among the events of Christ's coming, the resurrection of believers, and the coming of the end of the age. This pre­cedence and order, according to the premillennialist, confirms the dis­tinction between two resurrections. However, neither of these passages af­fords a convincing case for this posi­tion. When the apostle Paul in 1 Thes­salonians 4:16 speaks of the dead in Christ rising first, a contrast is not be­ing drawn between the resurrection of believers and of unbelievers. Rather, a contrast is being drawn between the resurrection of the dead, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, and the rapture of believers who are still living at the time of Christ's coming. Far from being excluded from the benefit of Christ's coming, those who have fallen asleep in Him will have a kind of pre-eminence — they will rise first. Furthermore, as we have previously argued, the order described in 1 Corinthians 15:23-24 — "Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end" — is not an order that allows for an intervening period of one thousand years between Christ's coming and the end. The events described, though they occur in a definite order, are events that comprise one great com­plex of events at the end of the age.

There is, accordingly, no Scriptural basis for the teaching that the res­urrection of the just and the unjust will be separated in time.

The Author of the Resurrection🔗

The more important and difficult questions relating to the Bible's teaching regarding the resurrection have to do with its author and na­ture. Who will be responsible for raising the dead at the end of the age? And, when we read that the dead will be raised prior to the judg­ment, how are we to understand this event? In what sense will even the unjust be raised from the dead? What will be the nature of the resur­rection body?

It needs to be admitted that the Bible does not provide a complete description and answer to all of these and other questions.4  Some things are clearly taught for the encouragement and comfort of believ­ers. Other things remain to an ex­tent shrouded in mystery. Here the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9 (from Isaiah 64:4 and 65:17) need to be borne in mind:

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has pre­pared for those who love Him.

Though the Old Testa­ment includes explicit ref­erences to the resurrec­tion of believers (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2), and though the expectation of the resurrection follows from all that the Lord promises His covenant people in the way of life and blessing,5  it is only in the New Testament that the full light of the gospel promise of the resurrection shines. This should not surprise us, since the bib­lical teaching and hope for the res­urrection is securely founded upon the great redemptive accomplish­ments of Christ in His death, resur­rection and ascension to the Father's right hand. As believers are united with Christ, they come to enjoy Him and all His blessings, most notably victory over death and the sure con­fidence of the resurrection of the body.

In spite of this clear focus upon Christ's resurrection and the believer's share in it, the New Testament makes it clear that the Author of this resur­rection is the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Trinity plays an integral part in the granting of resurrection life to those who belong to Christ. When Jesus re­sponds to the Sadducean denial of the resurrection, He ascribes the power to grant resurrection life to God:

You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30

The apostle Paul likewise in 2 Corinthians 1:9 describes believers as those who should not trust in themselves but "in God who raises the dead."

In other passages, the resurrection of the dead is ascribed especially to the power and work of Christ. In John 5, a passage we considered in the previous section, it is the Son of God who together with the Father calls the dead from their tombs and grants them life (vv. 21, 25, 28-29). This author­ity to raise the dead is, according to the teaching of Christ, a prerogative granted to Him by the Father and a fruit of His saving work (John 6:38-40, 44-45; 11:25­-26). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, who applies and communicates the benefits of Christ's saving work, gives believers a foretaste and share in the power of Christ's resurrec­tion. The same Spirit "who raised Jesus from the dead" dwells in believers and grants life to their "mortal bodies" also (Romans 8:11).

Thus, as believers share in the benefits which are theirs in fellow­ship with Christ, they are promised the gift of resurrection from the dead, a gift which the Father is pleased to grant through the Son and in the power of the life-giving Spirit.

This, of course, leaves us with the crucial question yet to be answered: what is it to be raised from the dead? What is the nature of the resurrec­tion body, so far as this is disclosed to us in the Scriptures? If the return of Christ will be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust alike, and if the resurrec­tion of believers in fellowship with Christ is a gracious work of the Triune God, it remains to be seen what the Scriptures teach about the character of this event.

The hope of Christian believ­ers for the future is not only that they will experience unbroken fellowship with Christ in the state intermedi­ate between death and resurrection, but also that they will be given a share in the power of Christ's resur­rection from the dead. All believers look forward to the great day of res­urrection, when all who belong to Christ will have a part in His resur­rection victory and be given bodies like His glorious body.

This event, the resurrection of the dead, will occur at the time of Christ's second advent, when He comes to judge the living and the dead at the end of the age. For be­lievers, the resurrection of the body will be a climactic participation in the great saving work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the resurrection, believers will be granted the fulness of indestructible life in communion with God. What believers today ex­perience in part, as a kind of downpayment upon their full inher­itance which is still to come — fel­lowship with God the Father through Christ and in the presence of His indwelling Spirit — will then be fully enjoyed.

The Nature of the Resurrection🔗

There are two ways by which we can arrive at an answer to this ques­tion. One way would be to focus upon the accounts of Christ's resur­rection to see what they might tell us about the resurrection. Since the believer's resurrection body will be fashioned after the pattern of Christ's glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21), this is one legitimate way to proceed. Another way would be to con­sider those passages that speak rather directly of the nature of the resurrection body. In what follows, I will follow both of these ways, though the second will receive greater attention.

Careful study of the accounts of Christ's resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples allows us to draw some conclusions regard­ing the nature of the resurrection body. The accounts of the resurrection, for example, consistently witness to the fact that the tomb in which the Lord's body was laid was, by virtue of His being raised from the dead, now empty (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:3, 6; John 20:1-10). The same body in which the Lord suffered and was crucified is now raised and glo­rified. The truth of the empty tomb authenticates the conviction that the resurrection was not a spiritual event separable from what happened to Jesus' body in the tomb. There is a genuine continuity between Jesus' pre-resurrection and post-resurrec­tion body (not bodies).

Consequently, when the risen Lord appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, they were able (despite their perplexity and initial unbelief at times) to recognize Him, identify the marks of His crucifixion, and even enjoy a meal with Him (com­pare Matthew 28:9, 17; Mark 16:9-14; Luke 24:11, 16, 31; John 20:19-23, 27-­29). In the account in the Gospel of Luke, all doubt as to the reality of the Lord's resurrection body is removed, when we read the Lord's words of rebuke to His startled and frightened disciples who "thought that they were seeing a spirit":

Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.

Luke 24:38-39

Though we need to beware the temp­tation to draw too many hard and fast conclusions from these ac­counts, it does seem clear that, whatever the differences between the glorified and pre-resurrection body of Christ, there is a substan­tial and real continuity/similarity.6

In addition to these ac­counts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are a few passages that speak more directly of the na­ture of the resurrection body. In 2 Timothy 2:18, there seems to be an al­lusion to false teachers in the early church who taught that the resurrec­tion had "already taken place." These teachers apparently spiritualized the resurrection and were confusing the faith of many. The apostle Paul like­wise makes an important comment on the resurrection in Philippians 3:20-21:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to sub­ject all things to Himself.

This passage not only establishes the important principle that the believer's resurrection body will be conformed to Christ's, but it also contrasts the humble condition of our present bodies with the glorious condition that will be ours in the resurrection. Our present bodies ex­hibit all the marks of sin and God's curse — they are weak, decaying, fragile and temporary. Our resur­rected bodies will exhibit all of the marks and benefits of Christ's sav­ing work — they will be strong, in­corruptible, indestructible and en­during.

A similar contrast is drawn in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, where the believer's present body is described as an "earthly tent" that, after it is dissolved or torn down, is replaced by a "building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (v. 1). This passage then goes on to utilize another metaphor for the differ­ence between the present body and the resurrec­tion body. Just as the present body compares to the resurrection body as an earthly tent to a heavenly building, so it compares to the resurrec­tion body as a being-­clothed-with-mortality to a putting-on-the-cloth­ing-of-immortality.

However, the one pas­sage which most exten­sively draws the contrasts between the present body and the resurrec­tion body is 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. Because of the importance of this passage to our understand­ing of the nature of the resurrection body, I will quote it in full and then make some observations based upon it.

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperish­able body; it is sown in dishonor, 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is writ­ten, "The first man, Adam, be­came a living soul." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiri­tual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the earth, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Without pretending to exhaust the complexity and richness of this pas­sage, there are several themes that relate to the primary question with which the apostle Paul is concerned — "with what kind of body do they (those raised from the dead) come?"

  • First, the apostle uses the meta­phor of the seed that is sown and its eventual germination and bringing forth of fruit to illustrate the connec­tion between the present body and the resurrection body. However great the difference between the seed sown and the fruit that it even­tually bears, the seed and the fruit are of one kind. Accordingly, the apostle elaborates at some length upon the obvious differences in the kinds of flesh that distinguish vari­ous creatures. The resurrection of the body is likened to the dying of a seed in order that it might thereby come to life in the form of its fruit. This means that the resurrection body is of a distinctively human kind. When God raises believers from the dead, their bodies, however new and changed, remain distinctively and peculiarly human, according to their kind.
  • Second, a series of contrasts are drawn between what the apostle terms this natu­ral or earthly body and the spiritual or heavenly body. These terms are not used to draw a contrast between a body that is made up of "material stuff" with a body that is made up of "spiritual stuff," as if to suggest that the resurrection body will be immaterial or non-fleshly. Rather, they are used to sharply distinguish the present body as one which belongs to the present age which is passing away and under the curse of God, and the resurrection body which belongs to the life of the Spirit in the age to come. The distinc­tion is not between material and immate­rial bodies, but between two kinds of bodies that answer to the present age and the age to come. Consequently, as we shall see in a third observation below, the apostle bases his description of these two bodies upon the two respective heads of humanity — the first man, Adam, and the second man, Christ.
    What is especially important for our purpose is to note the kinds of contrasts that are drawn between the natural and the spiritual body. Four contrasts are drawn. The earthly body of this present age is sown per­ishable, the heavenly body of the age to come is raised imperishable. When death, the final enemy, has been defeated and the consequences of sin and God's curse have been re­moved, the liability of the body to perishing, to decay and corruption, to dissolution, will be vanquished. The earthly body is sown in dishonor, the heavenly body will be raised in glory. By contrast to the tarnished and dimmed condition of the present body, the resurrection body will be splendid and striking. The earthly body is sown in weakness, the resurrection body will be raised in power. The fragility and vulnerability to destruction of the present body will be replaced by the enduring and indestructible power of the resurrec­tion body. And finally, the present body is natural, the resur­rection body is heavenly. All of these contrasts to­gether combine to paint a striking picture of the glory of the resurrection body with which believers will be clothed at the last day. This body will be of a human kind, to be sure, but not like anything be­lievers have seen or known in this life — a body no longer ravaged by sin and its consequences, a body that will be a fit and enduring building in which to dwell and enjoy unbroken (and unbreakable) fellow­ship with Christ and those who are His.
  • Third, in the closing section of this passage, the apostle bases his de­scription of these respective bodies upon the contrast between the two original bearers of these bodies — the first man, Adam, and the second man Christ. There is an intimate and close correspondence between the first man, Adam, who is "from the earth," and the earthly bodies of those who bear his image. Likewise, there is an intimate and close correspondence between the second man, Christ, who is "from heaven," and the heavenly bodies of those who bear His image. Adam and Christ represent two humanities. The first humanity is under the do­minion and liability of sin — mean­ing, it is subject to perishing, dis­honor, weakness and death. The sec­ond humanity is under the domin­ion and blessing of salvation — meaning, it is the recipient of imper­ishability, glory, power and never-ending life.
    This passage, though in a more ex­tensive and detailed manner, con­firms the teaching of the Scriptures on the nature of the resurrection. When Christ returns at the end of the age, the dead will be raised. Some, the unjust and unbelieving, will be raised unto judgment. Others, the just and believing, those who belong to Christ, will be raised unto glory. The nature of this resurrection will be like a seed that is sown and dies, and is raised, according to its kind, in newness of life. The resurrection body of believers will be conformed to the glory of Christ's. This body will not be wholly dissimilar to the present body. There will be similar­ity and continuity. It will be the body as it has now been raised or glorified, not an altogether new and unrelated body. Fur­thermore, it will be a real body, ma­terial and fleshly, not immaterial and spiritual in a sense that denies the continuity between the present body and the resurrection body. However, it will be a body so conformed to the image and glory of Christ that no vestige of the power and destructive effects of sin will remain. As the apostle so eloquently puts it at the close of 1 Corinthians 15:

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in vic­tory. O Death, where is your vic­tory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

vv. 54-57

The Resurrection/Renewal of All Things🔗

One of the concomitants of the second advent of Christ is the re­newal of all things, the cleansing of this sin-cursed creation and the re­creation of a new heaven and earth. The kind of continuity between the pre- and post-resurrection body of the believer that we have dis­cussed, finds its counterpart in the continuity be­tween the present and the renewed creation.

In the biblical understanding of the future, the resurrection glory of the believer will coincide with what might be called the resurrection glory of the new creation. Not only do these realities coincide, but they are also closely linked in their significance. If the salvation of believers includes the restoration of body and soul to a state of integrity and wholeness, then it must also include the full res­toration of the creation. Just as man was originally formed from the dust of the earth and placed within the creation-temple of God in which he was called to serve and glorify the Creator, so also will man in redemp­tion be restored to a place of life and service, under the headship and do­minion of the second Adam, in a newly cleansed creation temple.

For this reason, Romans 8:18-23 describes the creation as being un­der the same "slavery of corruption" that afflicts believers in their present bodies of humiliation. The term used to describe the corruption of creation in Romans 8 is used in 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50 to describe the corruption of the body. Accord­ingly, the creation's present groan­ing under the power and curse of sin mirrors the groaning of the believer. The creation itself likewise waits eagerly for the revelation of the sons of God, because the redemption of God's children is a redemption in which the creation itself participates! The future liberation of creation from its present corruption and bondage will only occur in conjunction with the believer's liberation from corruption and death. The link between the resurrection of the believer and the renewal of the creation is an intimate one. The renewal of the creation is the only context or environment within which the resurrection glory of believers in fellowship with Christ can be appreciated and understood. Without the glorification of the creation, the glo­rification of the new humanity in Christ would be an isolated and strange event.

This intimate link between the believer's resurrection and the re­newal of the creation allows us to see the unity between what we have called individual and general eschatology. It also joins together the salvation of the church and her members with the great events of cosmic renewal that will accompany Christ's return at the end of the age. Indeed, there is a legitimate sense in which the justification and sanctifi­cation of the believer find their par­allels in the justification and sanctification of the heavens and earth in the new creation. Just as the Lord declared the first creation in its state of integrity very good (Genesis 1:31), so the renewed creation will be worthy of the same judgment. And just as the first creation was perfect and holy in its consecration to the Lord, so the renewed creation will be one "wherein dwells righteousness" (compare 2 Peter 3:10-13). Justified and sanctified saints will dwell then in a justified and sanctified creation. A people holy unto the Lord, a royal priesthood, will enjoy fellowship with the Lord in the sanctuary of His renewed creation.7

There are two further matters that I would still like to address regarding the resurrection of the body.

  • The first matter concerns a recent debate within North American evangelicalism regarding the resurrection of the body, a debate provoked by the writings of Murray J. Harris, professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity International University. This debate has raised afresh and is illustrative of a number of important questions regarding the resurrection of the body.
  • The second matter has to do with some of the pastoral questions that often arise in connection with the biblical teaching regarding the resurrection. These questions, among others, are: What do the Re­formed confessions say about the resurrection of the body? What im­plications does the confession of the resurrection have for the way Chris­tian believers should treat and re­gard the bodies of those who are deceased? Will the resurrection body be sufficiently similar to our present bodies that they will be rec­ognizably ours? What about the resurrection of bodies which have been utterly destroyed through cremation or some other means? And what about the resurrection of those who die in infancy or whose bodies (and minds) were deformed or handi­capped through illness and disease?

Though I would not pretend or promise to be able to answer all of these questions, some of them need to be at least considered before we take up the next concomitant of the second advent of Christ, the final judgment.

A Recent Debate🔗

Some of the issues relating to the subject of the resurrection of the body have been highlighted in a re­cent debate within North American evangelism. This debate, widely reported in the Christian press, pro­vides an interesting test case on the doctrine of the resurrection.8  Though a number of parties have played a role in this debate, the two most im­portant antagonists have been Murray J. Harris, professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, and Norman Geisler, dean of Southern Evangeli­cal Seminary, Charlotte, North Caro­lina. Not only has Geisler charged that Harris' doctrine is heretical, but he has also been joined by a num­ber of cult-watching groups that have compared Harris' views with those of the cults, particularly the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In a number of works on the subject of the resurrection, Harris has described the resurrection body of Jesus as being "immaterial," "non-fleshly" and "invisible."9  Though Harris maintains that Jesus' resurrection body retains its essential humanity, even becoming visible and fleshly at will (for example, in the accounts of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances to the disciples), he insists that the glorified body of Christ is significantly different in kind than the pre-resurrection body. The personal identity of Jesus Christ, according to Harris, is not imperiled, but through the resurrection the body of Christ has undergone a significant change. To say that the body of the risen Christ is fleshly or comprised of "flesh and bone" diminishes the significance of the glorification that occurred through His resurrection, according to Harris.10 Furthermore, based upon his reading of 2 Corinthians 5, Harris argues that believers receive a "resurrection body" during the intermediate state, while their physical bodies remain in the grave. When Christ returns, all believers, whether living or dead, will undergo a resurrection of the body in which their physical bodies will be transformed or raised from the grave as spiritual bodies like that of Christ.11

In his criticisms of Harris' position, Geisler objects both to Harris' teach­ing that believers will receive a kind of interim resurrection body be­tween death and resurrection at the last day and to his teaching that the resurrection body is non-fleshly or immaterial.12

With respect to Harris' suggestion that believers receive a kind of in­terim resurrection body between the time of death and resurrection at the return of Christ, Geisler claims that this is inconsistent with the biblical testimony that the resurrection of the body occurs at the time of Christ's return. Geisler also notes that, in the passage to which Harris appeals for his idea of an interim resurrection body, 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, the believer's circumstance at death is one that is variously de­scribed as being "naked" (v. 3), "unclothed" (v. 4), or "absent from the body" (v. 8). These descriptions cor­respond to the common teaching of Scripture that, in the period between death and resurrection at the time of Christ's return, the believer is in a provisional state of fellowship with the Lord awaiting the future resur­rection of the body.

With respect to Harris' view of the nature of the resurrection body, Geisler objects particularly to three distinct emphases: that the resurrec­tion body of Christ is immaterial, that it is not numerically identical with his pre-resurrection body,13 and that it is not a part of observable history."14  Accord­ing to Geisler, the biblical testimony and the confessions of the historic Christian church require that we af­firm the material, the flesh-and­-blood-nature, of the resurrection body. The continuity between the present and resurrection body, fur­thermore, requires that we speak of the same body which dies being raised from the dead. When, for ex­ample, in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, we read of the seed which dies and sub­sequently bears fruit, then we can only conclude that there is a numeri­cal identity between the body which is sown in dishonor and raised in glory.15  Furthermore, though it may be true that we do not acknowledge the truth of the resurrection apart from faith — it is not observable to the naked eye in that sense — this does not mean that the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Christ are non-observable features of some kind of trans- or non-historical reality.

Perhaps the most critical issue that emerges in the context of this debate between Harris and Geisler has to do with the confessions of the historic Christian church. Do these confessions tell us anything about the resurrection and the nature of the resurrection body that might help to clarify this debate and de­termine whose view lies closer to the truth?

In my judgment, the confessions do provide us with considerable help at this point and generally tend to favor the position espoused by Geisler in this debate. Most of us are familiar with the article in the Apostles' Creed that says, "I believe in ... the resurrection of the body." What we often do not know, however, is that the historic language of this Creed was that of the resurrection of the flesh.16  The language with which we are familiar, though unobjectionable and true in its own right, only be­came the received text of the Creed in 1543. In the original language of this Creed, the church deliberately sought to oppose any gnosticizing or spiritualizing tendency to minimize the reality of the resurrection. The Bel­gic Confession, one of the great confessions of the Protestant Reformation, affirms that "all the dead shall be raised out of the earth, and their souls joined and united with their proper bodies in which they formerly lived" (Article 37, emphasis mine). In the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, Article 4, "Of the resurrection of Christ," declares:

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things ap­pertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sits, un­til he returns to judge all men at the last day (emphasis mine).17

Similarly, the Westminster Larger Cat­echism, in its exposition of the resur­rection of Christ, declares the follow­ing:

Christ was exalted in his resur­rection, in that, not having seen corruption in death ... and having the very same body in which he suf­fered, with the essential properties thereof (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power."

O. & A. 52, emphasis mine

A cursory reading of these classic confessional statements regarding the resurrection of the body, particu­larly the resurrection of Christ, clearly shows their teaching to be that the resurrection body is sub­stantially the same as the present body, at least in so far as it is mate­rial or flesh and blood. The proper­ties belonging naturally to the body remain true of the resurrection body, though all of those features of the "body of our humiliation" (Philippians 3:21) that are owing to sin and God's curse are utterly removed. The viewpoint espoused by Harris, in other words, can find little or no sup­port in the language and viewpoint of the historic confessions of the church. Consequently, the evidence seems to support the argument of Geisler that Harris' posi­tion deviates signifi­cantly from the ortho­doxy of the historic church. To teach that the resurrection body is im­material, that it is not comprised of flesh and blood, that it is not the same or proper body of the dead, now raised in glory, and that it is un­observable and invisible — to teach any one, let alone all, of these emphases, is to compromise in impor­tant ways the doctrine of Scripture and the church.18

Pastoral Questions Regarding the Resurrection of the Body🔗

When we consider the Bible's teaching regarding the resurrection of the body, many pastoral questions arise. Most believers, when they face the reality of their own death or the death of fellow believers, confront questions of a pastoral character that are unavoidable. Rather than ignore these questions, I would like to conclude our treatment of the res­urrection of the body by identifying some of these questions and offer­ing tentative answers. There is, of course, great risk that, in asking and answering these questions, we go beyond what is taught in the Scrip­tures. However, many of these questions may be answered in terms of the Bible's teaching we have summarized and those "good and nec­essary" consequences that follow from its teaching.

How Should We Treat the Body of Deceased Believers?🔗

One question that often surfaces in the face of the death of believers is: how should we treat or regard the body of deceased believers? Some­times this question arises in the con­text of considering cremation or other alternatives to burial. On other occasions this question is provoked by the way some people comfort fel­low believers at a funeral home viewing with such words as, "This is not your loved one, but only a body." When this kind of comfort is extended to believers, it is prompted by a genuine desire to assure those who mourn that death does not dis­rupt the fellowship we have with Christ, but ush­ers believers into the presence of the Lord with whom they are now "at home." However, it sug­gests something about the body of the person who has died that may not be altogether consis­tent with the hope for the resurrec­tion of the body.

Upon the basis of our understand­ing of the Bible's teaching regarding the resurrection, it would seem to follow that Christians ought to treat the body of a deceased believer with the utmost respect and care. The way we view and handle, even the way in which we lovingly commit the body of a believer to the grave by way of a committal service, should testify to our convictions about the resurrec­tion of the body. Though I do not wish here to go into the whole ques­tion of the legitimacy of cremation, it should not surprise us that this practice in modern times has its roots often in an unbelieving denial of the resurrection of the body. Fur­thermore, to say that the body of a believer is only a body, that it is in no respect to be identified with the one who has died, is perhaps mis­leading. Because our redemption in­cludes the restoration and reintegra­tion of soul and body, the body remains an essential part of our identity. The com­fort which is ours in the face of death is not simply that we go to be with the Lord, but that we anticipate see­ing God "in our flesh" (cf. Job 19:26).

Support for this way of regarding the bodies of deceased believers is found in a remarkable statement in the Westminster Larger Cat­echism (Q. &A. 86). Speak­ing of the communion in glory of Christ and those who are united to Him, this Catechism makes the following affirmation:

The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the in­visible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the high­est heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls.

Will the Resurrection Body be Recognizably Our Own?🔗

A question that sometimes arises in connection with the resurrection of the body and the final state is: will the resurrection body be recogniz­able? Sometimes it is maintained that there will be no recognition of fellow believers in the new heavens and earth because this would be in­compatible with the unimpaired joy of the final state. The recognition of one another, so it is argued, would require the sad remembrance of sins committed in this present life and call attention to the absence of some who were not saved. Furthermore, some appeal to Jesus' teaching in the gospels that in the kingdom of heaven "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like an­gels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30). If there were such continuity between the present and resurrection body that believers would be recognizable to each other, then this would not only imply the remembrance of the sins and shortcomings of this life, but it would also distract from the kind of exclusive attachment to Christ, sur­passing all earthly relationships (in­cluding marriage and family rela­tionships) as we now experience them. Doesn't the language of this passage — they "are like the angels" — require the conclusion that the resurrection body will be so unlike the present body as to be unrecog­nizable?

None of these arguments, how­ever, can withstand careful scrutiny. When Jesus speaks, for example, of believers in the resurrection being "like the angels," the point of comparison given in the context has to do with marriage and marriage rela­tionships. Because there will be nei­ther marrying nor giving in marriage, those who are raised in the resurrec­tion will be in this sense like the an­gels. This should not be understood, however, to deny the continuing re­ality of the created difference be­tween male and female. Nor does it require the conclusion that the per­sonal identity of believers, including their bodily form and uniqueness, will be substantially altered. The bib­lical testimony regarding the resur­rection appearances of our Lord Jesus Christ convincingly demonstrates that He was recognizable to the disciples. To maintain that the resurrection body would not be rec­ognizably or identifiably our own militates against the biblical teach­ing of continuity between the present and resurrection body. Strictly speaking, were believers in the resurrection unrecognizable to one another in the wholeness of their persons, they would literally cease to be the persons they presently are! This would mean that, in the resurrection, our persons are not restored or healed, but replaced by persons whose identity and form is wholly different than our present identity and form.19

Undoubtedly, it is difficult for us to imagine how believers can enjoy fellowship with each other in the eternal state, recognizing each other in the state of glorification, without their joy being impaired by the re­membrance of sin in this present life. It is also somewhat difficult to imagine a circumstance in which, though family and marriage relation­ships in this life are not forgotten or unknown in the life to come, the in­stitutions of marriage and family do not continue as they now exist. But these difficulties notwithstanding, there are ample biblical and confes­sional reasons to insist that in the resurrection there will be a mutual recognition and fellowship among believers and with Christ that will be the perfection, not the denial, of this present life.

What about the Resurrection of Bodies That Have Been Utterly Destroyed?🔗

In the light of a number of my com­ments in the preceding, there may be some who are asking the ques­tion: what about the resurrection of bodies that have been utterly destroyed? If the resurrection body is in substantial continuity with the present body, if it is the "self-same body," to use the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith, how can that be in the case of bodies that have been utterly destroyed through one or another means? Indeed, the decay of the body after death, its re­turn to the dust whence it came, compels the conclusion that, in many cases, the resurrection of the body represents a kind of act on God's part that is tantamount to a new creation out of nothing.

If I may be permitted the use of some rather abstract language at this juncture, the difficulty this ques­tion poses has to do with whether the material "particles" or constituents of the present body must be identical with those of the resurrection body. Nothing in the biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the body requires that this be the case. It may be the case — after all, it is certainly possible that God could form the resurrection body from the same, identical particles as the present body. But this need not be the case in order for there to be a substantial and personal identity between the resurrection body and the body of the present. If I may be permitted this comparison, we com­monly regard our bodies as the self­same bodies, even though they un­dergo considerable change because of age and infirmities, even being comprised of wholly new cells every number of years! If our present bod­ies are one and the same with our bodies many years ago, then there does not seem to be any problem with an affirmation of the resurrec­tion of the proper bodies of those whose earthly bodies have been wholly destroyed.

What about the Bodies of Unborn Children, Infants, or Those Who Die Prematurely?🔗

Another question that can arise in a pastoral context among believers is: what about the bodies of unborn children, or of infants and others who die prematurely? This question is related to a more fundamental question, namely, are be­lievers justified in being confident of the salvation of their children?20 How­ever, I will restrict my comments to the issue of the resurrection of the bodies of such children. With respect to the resurrection of the body, the specific focus of this question is upon the kind of body with which such children will be raised. Though these children die in a state of immature development, physically and other­wise, will they be raised bodily in maturity?

If believers may be confident of the salvation of such children, then it fol­lows that they too will share in the resurrection of the body. Furthermore, since the final state is one of complete perfection and glorification, it must be the case that all who share in this perfection, including that aspect of it known as the resurrection, will do so in a state of full maturity. There will not be anything, in the final state of God's eternal kingdom, like the pro­cess of growth and maturation as we now know it. Just as they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, so there will be no distinction between adult and child, between mature and immature, at least not as we now know these distinctions. Hard as it may be for us to imagine or conceive, we should be confident as believers that we will enjoy fellowship with all the saints, including those children who die under the circumstances de­scribed, in the fullness of mature and perfected life.

What about the Bodies of Those with Severe Physical and Mental Impairments?🔗

One final question that is of a pas­toral nature respecting the resurrec­tion of the body is: what about the bodies of those with severe physi­cal and mental impairments? Obvi­ously, this is a question that many believers cannot but ask, when they and fellow believers witness the rav­ages of sin and the curse upon these bodies of our humiliation.

To this question, we have an answer in the familiar words of Psalm 103:2-3,

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases.

When the Lord wipes away every tear from our eye, when He expels from His sanctified creation every remainder of sin and its curse, when He grants us bodies like unto the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ then we may be confident that the resurrection body, raised in glory, will be beautiful in appearance and form, rid of every defect and impairment which sin and the curse have brought. Though it is unwise to speculate carelessly about all the features of the resurrection body, it seems to me to follow from the bib­lical testimony that these bodies will be altogether lovely in every appro­priate sense. What that means pre­cisely, no one knows. But that it will be so seems undeniable.


With these pastoral questions ad­dressed, we come to the close of our consideration of the biblical teach­ing regarding the resurrection of the body. Without a doubt, we have not been able to do this teaching jus­tice. The testimony of the Scriptures to the certainty of the resurrection is clear. However, many things are not told us that we might like to know. It may even be that, in ad­dressing some of these pastoral questions, I have exceeded the boundaries of what is given to us to know in the Scriptures.

Perhaps enough has been said, however, to appreciate afresh the hope of which the apostle Peter speaks in 1 Peter 1:3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrec­tion of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and unde­filed and will not fade away, re­served in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.


  1. ^ Vol. III (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), "Concomitants of the Second Advent," pp. 837-880. 
  2. ^ In many dualistic worldviews which sharply distinguish the spiritual and the material (Manichaeism, some forms of ancient Greek philosophy), and in many monistic worldviews that deny the ultimate reality of the material world (Gnosticism, Hinduism, Buddhism), the teaching of a resurrection of the body has no legitimate or proper place. The biblical teach­ing of the resurrection of the body has an ap­propriate home within the framework of the biblical understanding of creation, and re­demption as a restoration and renewal, and not a denial, of creation. 
  3. ^ This is to state the matter perhaps too simply. Dispensational pre-millennialists commonly speak of at least two additional resurrections: the resurrection of those saints who experience tribulation in the seven-year period between Christ's coming "for" and His coming "with" His saints; and the resurrection of the millennial saints at the conclusion of the millennium.
  4. ^ For example, the Bible says very little about the resurrection of unbelievers other than to affirm that it will occur. That unbelievers will be raised has already been shown from the passages cited above (e.g. John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15). This resurrection is not an act of Christ as Redeemer, but an act of Christ as Judge. Unbelievers are raised in order that they might be judged and consigned to punishment. Be­lievers are raised in order that they might fully share in all the blessings of salvation that are theirs through fellowship with Christ, the Me­diator.nt saints are typi­fied in the faith of Abraham who "was looking for the city, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10; cf. vv.13-16, 19).
  5. ^ See e.g.: Exodus 3:6 (cf. Matthew 22:29-32); Psalm 16:10; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24, 25; Proverbs 23:14; Hosea 6:1-2; Ezekiel 37:1-13. Without denying the progressive disclosure of the truth regarding the resurrec­tion, or the radical significance of Christ's vic­tory over death in His resurrection, it may be said that the great comfort of the covenant of grace, salvation and life in fellowship with the living Lord, could never be diminished or ulti­mately vanquished in death, which is the wages of sin. However dim and sketchy may have been their view of it, Old Testament saints are typi­fied in the faith of Abraham who "was looking for the city, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10; cf. vv.13-16, 19).
  6. ^ Some of these differences are suggested in the accounts in the Gospel of John. When Mary Magdalene first recognized the risen Lord and clung to Him, John records the Lord's words to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet as­cended to the Father." Subsequently, when the disciples were gathered on the evening of the day of Christ's resurrection and "the doors were shut ... for fear of the Jews," Jesus suddenly comes and stands in their midst. Similarly, in the other accounts of Jesus' resurrection ap­pearances, He comes and goes at will. Too much should not be made of these accounts, so far as the nature of Christ's resurrection body is concerned. The circumstances are unique. Christ is in a transitional period between the time of His resurrection and ascension/glorifi­cation at the Father's right hand. However, these accounts allow us to see that it is the same Jesus who died that is now alive. And yet, He now exists in the glory and power of the resur­rection. I will return to some of these questions in a subsequent article.
  7. ^ In a previous article, I noted that Norman Shep­herd in his article, "The Resurrections of Revelation 20" (Westminster Theological Journal 37/1 (Fall, 1974, pp. 34-43), links the first resurrection enjoyed by believers in fellowship with Christ with the implied second resurrection which he takes to be the creation of the new heavens and earth. This linking of two resur­rections, one of the believer and the other of the creation itself is warranted by the teach­ing of passages like Romans 8:18-23 (compare 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1; 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50).
  8. ^ For a brief and popular account of the debate, see: "Trinity Prof Attacked for Resurrection Teaching," Christianity Today 36/13 (April 5, 1993), p. 62; and "The Mother of All Muddles," Christianity Today 37/4 (April 5, 1993), pp. 62-66. It should be observed that Harris has been ex­onerated of the charge of heresy by his institu­tion, denomination (Evangelical Free), and a committee of evangelical theologians
  9. ^ Harris has written extensively on the subject of the resurrection, the following sources be­ing most important: Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament (Grand Rap­ids: Eerdmans, 1985); Easter in Durham: Bishop Jenkins and the Resurrection (Exeter: Paternoster, 1985); and From Grave to Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
  10. ^ The following statements from Harris' Raised Im­mortal are fairly representative of his view: "An analysis of the Gospels suggests that the risen body of Jesus was unlike his pre-Easter body in some important respects. To begin with he was no longer bound by material or spatial limitations" (p. 53); "The Resurrection marked his entrance upon a spiritual mode of existence, or, to bor­row Pauline terminology, his acquisition of a 'spiritual body,' which was both immaterial and invisible yet capable of interaction with the world of time and space" (pp. 57-8). 
  11. ^ Raised Immortal, pp. 44, 100.
  12. ^ I am summarizing Geisler's criticism of Harris' view from the following of his writings: The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989); and "In Defense of the Resurrection: A Reply to Criticisms, A Review Article," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34/2 (June, 1991), pp. 243-61.
  13. ^ Though this language tends to be rather ab­stract and obscure, the point Geisler is mak­ing is that the body of the risen Christ is not another body than the one in which He was cru­cified. Though through the resurrection this body has been glorified, it remains the same (numerically identical) body.
  14. ^ In Defense of the Resurrection," pp. 247-8.
  15. ^ This is what Geisler has in mind when he uses the awkward expression, "the numerical iden­tity" of the pre- and post-resurrection body. He is not insisting that the body in each instance be made up of the same material "particles," though this is possible and held by some Chris­tian theologians. He is only insisting that it is the same body, that there is an identity of per­son, also bodily, between the believer before and after he undergoes the resurrection of the body.
  16. ^ In the Latin versions of the Creed, the term is carnis. In the Greek versions, the term is sarx. See: Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House reprint, 1931), pp. 45-56.
  17. ^ Mark A. Noll, ed., Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), p. 214.
  18. ^ This being the case, it is troubling to note that, even so trustworthy an expositor of biblical truth as 1.1. Packer, maintains that Harris' view is "orthodox" and in accord with "Scripture and with the consensus of the world church" ("The Mother of All Muddles," p. 64). In this obser­vation, Packer glosses over the language of the confessions that I have cited above, especially the language which speaks of the "proper" or "same" body, as well as of the "flesh and bones" of the risen Christ. This is the language of his­toric confessional orthodoxy and it is precisely this language that Harris seems to repudiate.
  19. ^ See: William Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), pp.66-70; J. Aspinwall Hodge, Recognition after Death (New York: American Tract Society, 1889). In his in­teresting little book, Hodge addresses this pas­toral question and convincingly shows that communion with the Lord and with each other depends upon our unique identities as persons comprised of soul and body. Some Bible passages seem to imply rather clearly that this is the case: Luke 16:19-31; Matthew 8:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:19­20; Isaiah 14:12.
  20. ^ For an affirmation of the salvation of the chil­dren of believing parents, see the Canons of Dort, I, 17. The Westminster Confession speaks differently (though not contradictorily) of the salvation of "elect infants" in Chap. X, iii. 

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