Source: Wat het geloof verwacht (De Vuurbaak), 1998. 8 pages. Translated by Wim Kanis.

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 22 - The Resurrection and the Life Eternal

Question 57: What comfort does
resurrection of the body offer you?

Answer 57: Not only shall my soul
                                                after this life
                                                immediately be taken up
                                                to Christ, my Head,
                   but also this my flesh,
                                                raised by the power of Christ,
                                                shall be reunited with my soul
                                                and made like Christ’s glorious body.

All humans have to die. Even if no more wars or other disasters would ever take place again, in a hundred years’ time death will have wiped out the entire current world population. Unimaginable! This harsh reality forces people to deal with death — no matter how. But death remains a mystery. It takes away people without giving reasons. Never do we see one person returning from it. Death does not say what it is doing with them. Nor how it came to earth and whether it belongs here. And not at all whether there is anyone or anything stronger than it. It does not answer any of these questions. Death does not reveal its dark secret.
Only the gospel comes with reliable news about it.

Attempts to Come to Terms With Death🔗

People have sought to reconcile themselves with death in various ways. According to the Greek sage Plato, the soul is of heavenly origin and cannot die. It is locked up as punishment in the body, from which it will be delivered at death. Death was thus experienced as a kind of deliverance and therefore one could face it calmly. This pagan sage has had a great influence.

According to other religions that gained great influence with us in the West from the East, after death the immortal soul moves each time to another creature. This may mean progress or regression. But in any case, life goes on — and therefore death does not need to frighten us. In our time we are generally faced with the view that everything has come to an end with death. Dead is dead. Man disintegrates into his material components and ceases to exist. As normal as it is for a life to begin — whether it is a plant, an animal, or a human being — it is considered “normal” for life to cease to exist. Death belongs as “naturally” to life as a shadow accompanies light. So, according to this present view also, there is no reason for any panic.

But all these and similar views on death cannot be proven. What death does to people cannot be traced or verified.

The Source From Which We Know Death🔗

Only God can give us reliable information. And he does this, but not by calling people back from the dead and sending them to us. Occasionally we hear of experiences people had when they were in a comatose state. But nowhere in the Bible do we hear of someone who returned from the dead to tell us what it was like on the other side of this life. Lazarus had been in the grave for four days when Jesus raised him,1 but we receive no information from him about those four days. The rich man in the parable wanted someone from the dead to seriously warn his brothers on earth. But he received the reply that his brothers had the Bible, Moses and the Prophets. They needed to listen to them.2 And so do we.

The Bible progressively speaks more clearly about these things. The OT is still full of dark tones about the radical nature of death: will phantoms rise? The answer has to be “no.”3 Death is a land of deep darkness from which there is no return.4 Yet the perspective is not lacking by any means. The LORD will destroy death forever and the dead will come to life again. All of them, and this includes also my body, will be raised.5 “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.”6

In the NT, the last mists are swept away. The claim of the Sadducees that there would not be a resurrection is rejected.7 There is no doubt about it: we know that he who raised Jesus will raise us also with him.8 But first of all, we want to examine what happens to us according to the Bible immediately after our death.

Dying and Then…?🔗

The Bible is rather austere about this matter, especially the OT. “The dead know nothing.”9 They can no longer praise God.10 Does the OT then not speak of a life immediately after this life? At the very least, we will be allowed to say that the OT assumes that fellowship with God is not broken off — even temporarily — by death.11 Here, however, applies what Article 9 of the Belgic Confession says about the doctrine of the Trinity: “what seems to be somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New Testament”. Because it does not leave us in the dark about where we are going immediately after this life. Jesus said to the murderer crucified alongside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”12 To the Philippians, Paul wrote from prison that he longed to depart and be with Christ.13 Death apparently coincided for him with “being with Christ”.

The book of Revelation reveals what happens to faithful Christians immediately after they die: “they came to life again and reigned with Christ as kings.” It does not say that they “rose again”. That is for later. Their dead and decapitated bodies still rest in the earth. Everyone thinks they have been eliminated. But in reality they have been taken up into the reign of Christ.14 For that reason they are already blessed now.15

What Does it Mean That Only My Soul is With Christ?🔗

The soul that goes to Christ at death is not some vague phantom but a human being, someone with full consciousness. Even with all its differences, it remains the person as we have known him or her. That is why Abraham is in heaven under his familiar name and why it is said of poor Lazarus from the parable that he was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom.16

The soul is man himself — as he exists after death. Therefore we may continue to call our dead by their familiar names and say that they are with Christ. Scripture does not describe what souls look like but it does speak of them as if they have a form. They can cry out, have a voice, wear white clothes, have palm branches in their hands, and reign as kings with Christ.17 However, we must not infer too much from this for our imagination of these souls. We take into account that the Bible also often speaks of God who is a Spirit and of the angels who are spirits as if they had a body.18 But the fact that these dead are described in this way does confirm the conviction that they remained fully human, even though it remains a mystery to us how this is possible without a physical body.

What Future Does My Body Have?🔗

At death the soul goes to its Head, to Christ in heaven, but the body is buried in the earth to decay there.

What a difference! A journey of glory for the soul…and an inglorious destruction for the body. Is that just the material remainder that suddenly has no more value after years of being cared for as a precious possession? Can it simply be cremated, e.g., for reasons of hygiene or lack of space? And is there absolutely nothing left to look for at the grave of a loved one? In a certain sense the soul has indeed preceded the body. But Christ does not give up on our body.

It remains his property, no less than the soul. Even after it is buried and has returned to dust.

Our body, though soon to return to dust, is destined for a great future. This my flesh will be raised. Christ himself will do so, by his power.

And it will become unimaginably beautiful, healthy and glorious, conformed to his glorified body. The body, now without its soul, is therefore and will continue to be, more than a mortal remains. Christ never declares our bodies as a “total loss”.

For him, it retains its high value. Even after death, when we see no other solution than to bury it. He keeps it under his control and uses it as valuable seed. Therefore, it is not a disaster when the physical body is being decomposed. A farmer who is sowing does not even want to see the grains of wheat back in their old form. Please, no. He wants to harvest stalks of wheat. And as there is a difference between a grain of seed and a stalk of wheat, so much more will there be a difference between the body that is sown and the one that will be raised soon.19 It is sown in dishonour. But note: it is sown. And therefore not deliberately destroyed, as happens with a cremation.

A Christian burial is not honourable, yet it is hopeful. As the Westminster Larger Catechism states: the bodies of the believers “rest in their graves as in their beds”.20 Why does God place so much value on that dead body? Why does he not leave that for what it is and start over? Because he wants to save me, my own soul and “this my flesh”. At death my soul goes to heaven, my body into a grave. That is a great difference! But both body and soul retain their identity, remain destined for each other, and will again be reunited with each other.

Our New Body🔗

After the resurrection we will have a spiritual body.21 This has often been explained as the body of flesh and blood becoming “spirit”: transparent and ephemeral, immaterial. Such a spiritual body is more “spirit” than “body”. It is tenuous and fleeting. Behind this is the false notion that our material or physical body is all too unspiritual as long as it consists of earthly matter.

But Paul means something totally different. He is not thinking of the spirit of man but of the Spirit of God: our future body will be completely controlled by the Holy Spirit. This topic had his attention more often. We must no longer offer our bodies to sin as instruments of wickedness.22 After all, the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.23

Unfortunately, in practice it is often more like a squatter’s home of sin. But after the resurrection, the Spirit will control all my limbs and organs. With mouth and heart, eye and ear, hand and foot, with our thoughts and our feelings, with everything we are and have, we will be praising God. That is why our new body is called spiritual.24

Will We Recognize Each Other?🔗

Will I recognize others after this life and will they recognize me?

There is another question that precedes this one: will I recognize myself, or will I have changed so completely that I no longer know it is I? We get a clear answer to this question.

Because “this my flesh” will be reunited with my soul, it is certain that I will experience all this in the deep realization that, yes, it is me. It seems an obvious thought that from this self-recognition it follows that we will also be able to recognize each other. Everyone’s identity is preserved and everyone knows who he is. Would we then not know this about each other? We think so.

However, we should not imagine this recognition too naively. It is not a matter of simple recognition. How will two Christians recognize each other from their time together in a concentration camp without being reminded of that horrible time? Or how can a son recognize his mother from the past without missing his father? And will he or she who died as a baby be able to recognize anyone?

But besides being possibly too naive, we should above all not think too small about this reunion of one another. The heavenly joy consists not only of the fact that we will once again meet our beloved contemporaries of earlier days. “In that case we withdraw too much into our own small, defined sphere of perception, isolating ourselves with those who are ‘our own’ and asking ourselves whether that which has passed between us will return in some way, whether it will endure.”25 In heaven — and this is also true of the new earth — it is not a case where “some isolated figures re-emerge whom we have met here on earth”. We are included in the community of a multitude that no one can count. And within that context "also those with whom we have been connected here on earth in various bonds will — each in their own place — also enter into our circle of attention.”26

The recognition of certain people becomes, as it were, embedded in the knowing of everyone27 We will not be strangers to one another. On the contrary, there will be a friendship that is tighter than was ever possible on earth.

Question 58: What comfort do you receive
                      from the article about

                      the life everlasting?

Answer 58: Since I now already
                   feel in my heart
                   the beginning of eternal joy,
                   I shall after this life
                   possess perfect blessedness,
                   such as no eye has seen,
                   nor ear heard,
                   nor the heart of man conceived —
                   a blessedness in which to praise God forever.

Never seen, heard, or conceived. This does not mean that we cannot say anything about the eternal life.28 However, we cannot imagine what or how it will be. For that, the richest experience of our eyes and ears and the wildest imagination of the heart fall short. But even after we have heard this surprising news from the gospel, we still are left with expressions such as “indescribable” and “unimaginable”.

The Eternal Life Has Already Started🔗

It is popularly said that no one has eternal life. When people say this they mean that life is fragile and always ends somewhere. Actually we admit this when we say that eternal life only begins after this life. Then we too think that no one has eternal life right now. But that is a half-truth. For indeed, we do not as yet possess the perfect glory. But on the other hand, eternal life is already present now, namely as the beginning of the eternal joy that I feel in my heart. And that beginning is at the same time the joyful guarantee that the perfect glory is on its way. Because “to everyone who has, more will be given”.29 Eternal life thus begins during this life. That corresponds to a statement by Jesus. According to him, eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.30 But this is not only reserved for the future.

On the flipside of this statement it also implies that eternal death has already started. Those who neither know God nor Christ are dead. Dead while alive. They may feel quite alive. Often happy, too: no worries whatsoever. The prodigal son in the parable never felt more alive than when he went from one party to another. But his father said of him all that time that he was dead.31 A dead bon-vivant.

It is a poignant thought that the world contains millions of such dead people among mostly vital and energetic people. Eternal life has already begun; and so has eternal death.

Everyone Who Lives and Believes In Me Now Shall Never Die🔗

Lazarus had been lying in the tomb for four days when Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live”.32 This word completely matched with what happened to Lazarus a short time later. He became alive again. But did this surprising statement of Jesus apply only to this one exceptional case? Apparently not, for he did not only say that the dead Lazarus would live, but everyone who believes in him. Immediately after this he came with an even greater revelation: everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

With that message, Jesus was also referring to Lazarus who had died! In fact, he had not really died. He was alive — also during the four days he was in his grave. And even if he had remained in his grave, what Jesus said about not dying in eternity also applied to him. Even then he was someone who lived. Because anyone who believes in Jesus will not die. Why not? Because Jesus can claim: I am the resurrection and the life.33 Because of his bond with Jesus, Lazarus had a part in that life. It could no longer be taken away from him. Because the decisive factor is not whether we are healthy or sick, nor whether we are buried or still alive, but whether we are Christ’s. Nothing is still mortal then, for even if we must die, we are out of danger.

A Blessedness in (for) Which to Praise God Forever🔗

This last of the Twelve Articles is full of hope and expectation.

Eternal life is also a matter of the future.34 After this life, therefore, I will possess perfect blessedness. By this the Catechism refers first of all to that happens immediately after this life. The glory is then already perfected. But there is a gradation in this perfection. The Twelve Articles conclude with the belief that we possess imperishable life, right through death and the destruction of this world.

Two words typify that life: joy and blessedness. It could not be more festive. Our communion with God has been restored so that we may have him back as our heavenly Father. That gives reason to rejoice. The all-powerful Creator who would otherwise condemn us, gives us perfect blessedness. That gives intense joy. We can only speak haltingly about what eternal life will be like one day: being fully human, with a body in which we feel delightfully joyful, inner peace, knowing and loving each other, and above all: knowing God, loving him from the depths of our hearts, with full devotion, in boundless joy.35 In short, with body and soul, along with all of creation, we may totally dedicate ourselves to the eternal praise of God. That is life!
In that one word it is also everything that faith is expecting.


  1. ^ John 11:17, 39.
  2. ^ Luke 16:27-31.
  3. ^ Psalm 88:10-11.
  4. ^ Job 10:21, 22.
  5. ^ Isaiah 25:8; 26:19.
  6. ^ 1 Samuel 2:6. See also A. DeBondt, Wat leert het oude testament aangaande het leven na dit leven? Ch. IV.
  7. ^ Matthew 22:23.
  8. ^ 2 Corinthians 4:14.
  9. ^ Ecclesiastes 9:5.
  10. ^ Psalm 88; Isaiah 38:18.
  11. ^ See e.g. Psalm 49:15; 73:24.
  12. ^ Luke 23:43.
  13. ^ Philippians 1:23.
  14. ^ Revelation 20:4.
  15. ^ Revelation 14:13.
  16. ^ Luke 16:22.
  17. ^ Revelation 6:9-11; 20:4.​ 
  18. ^ H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics V, 680, 681.
  19. ^ 1 Corinthians 15:35f.
  20. ^ WLC QA 86. See also J.A. Heyns, Dogmatiek, 397. We believe that this imagery is in line with Luke 8:52 and John 11:11f. After their deaths Jesus says of the daughter of Jairus and of Lazarus that they are sleeping. This is not merely a soft metaphor (euphemism) but it characterizes death for what it is. For Jesus the dead remain accessible. They will not respond to our voice, but they will hear him when he awakens them, John 5:25, 28. Before him they are asleep.
  21. ^ 1 Corinthians 15:44.
  22. ^ Romans 6:13, 19.
  23. ^ 1 Corinthians 6:19.
  24. ^ See also the commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:44.
  25. ^ K. Schilder, Wat is de hemel?, 170. Schilder speaks in this context of an “egoistic expression”. We consider this as being too strongly worded. Why should it be selfish in itself to long for the reunion with loved ones? Therefore we prefer to speak of a too limited definition of the question. But in terms of content we agree with his explanation of recognizing each other.
  26. ^ K. Schilder, Ibid., 171; see also 168-176.
  27. ^ For that reason it does not seem necessary to us to reject such expressions as “recognizing each other” and “seeing each other again”, as Schilder in fact is doing, Ibid., 170, 174. He is, however, right insofar as considering that such expressions characterize too narrowly the reality of the future.
  28. ^ Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg catechism, 493, 494.
  29. ^ Ursinus also refers to this text, Luke 19:26, in his Ibid., 500.
  30. ^ John 17:3.
  31. ^ Luke 15:24.
  32. ^ John 11:25, 26.
  33. ^ John 11:25.
  34. ^ Matthew 25:46; Mark 10:30. Corresponding to this the Catechism also speaks in QA 59 of being “an heir to life everlasting”.
  35. ^ Zacharias Ursinus, Ibid., 500.

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