This article is about the resurrection of the body, when Christ returns. The author also discusses what the nature of the resurrection is and the relation to the renewal of all things. He concludes by discussing questions about the resurrection of the body in instances where the body was destroyed or impaired on earth, or where infants died prematurely. He also answers questions about how we should treat our bodies today, and if we will recognize our body in heaven.

Source: The Outlook, 1992. 2 pages.

The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8

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.

Philippians 3:20-21

Comparing the old covenant believer with the new covenant believer, John Calvin remarks somewhere that both are called to live in hope. Even the believer who looks back in faith to the great redemptive events of Christ's birth, death, resur­rection and ascension, must continue to look forward in hope to the con­summation and completion of Christ's work in the future. As Calvin put it, the Christian always embraces Christ "clothed in his promises." Christian believers, by virtue of their union with Christ, await the day of their full and complete participation in the saving benefits of His death and resurrection. The whole course of the Christian's pilgrimage has then, a forward look; it is dominated by the fact that we have been "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).

I am reminded in this connection of a popular Christian song which in­cludes the line, "I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future." Though the intended meaning of this line may be clear and true enough — no one of us knows precisely what the future holds in the way of prosperity or adversity — it is not exactly accurate. We do know the main lines of the future as it is in Christ. Indeed, we have seen our fu­ture as believers in the past events of Christ's resurrection from the dead and ascension to the Father's right hand!

For this reason the Apostles' Creed concludes with a twofold affirmation about the glorious future anticipated by the believer. We know what the fu­ture holds in at least two most impor­tant respects! The future which captivates and draws the believer for­ward is full of promise and rich with blessing, the promise and blessing of "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting."

An Entrance through Death into Christ's Presence🔗

It is important to notice that the Apostles' Creed, when it speaks of the Christian's future, does not specifically mention the future of the believer who "falls asleep" in Jesus before His com­ing again and the resurrection of the dead. Because of the importance of this aspect of the believer's future hope and the confusion which often abounds today concerning it, we need to digress for a moment to consider this aspect of the believer's hope for the future, what is often termed the "intermediate state."

Interestingly, when the Heidelberg Catechism treats the Creed's affirma­tion of "the resurrection of the body," it begins by speaking of this inter­mediate state. In answer to the ques­tion, "What comfort does the resurrection of the body afford you?" the Catechism answers: "That not only my soul, after this life, shall be im­mediately taken up to Christ, its Head; but also that this my body, raised by the power of Christ, shall again be united with my soul, and made like unto the glorious body of Christ." What is interesting about this confes­sion is that it almost "intrudes" into the answer the subject of what be­comes of the believer immediately upon death and the separation of body and soul which death brings.

I place the word "intrudes" in quotation marks because it is really not an intrusion at all. It is a necessary confession of faith and the expression of an important biblical teaching which is the source of great comfort to believers.

This biblical teaching is that the believer's communion with Christ is not broken by death. Believers who have been joined through faith with Christ and who are indwelt by the Spirit of God are, when they die, im­mediately taken into the presence of the Lord. The communion with Christ which they enjoy now is not inter­rupted, but rather intensified, upon the event of their death.

In 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul describes this reality by comparing our being "at home in the body" to being "absent from the Lord" (vs. 6). Con­versely, he speaks of our "being absent from the body" as being "at home with the Lord." When our present bodies are dissolved (vs. 1), we will not be deprived of that communion with the Lord which we already enjoy in this life. Rather, we will enter into a new and more intimate communion in the Lord's presence.

Similarly, in Philippians 1 the apostle is able to speak of his death as "gain," precisely because it will bring him (and any believer) an even greater communion with Christ, his heavenly Head! Writing from prison, Paul recognizes that he may well be put to death for the sake of the gospel. But he is not afraid because death would be better than life: "for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Nonetheless, recognizing that the Lord may well have work for him to do yet on behalf of the Philippians and others, he adds, "having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for this is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake" (vss. 23-24).

These passages and others (compare Luke 16:22; 23:43; Matthew 10:28; Revelation 22:4) clearly describe an unbroken communion of life between the believer and the Lord Jesus Christ, a communion which is not interrupted or suspended for a time upon the believer's death. Though we must guard ourselves here against any un­disciplined speculation about the exact nature of this intermediate state of communion with the Lord, no one has the right to deprive the believing child of God of this comfort.

Consequently, we must reject several common ways in which this biblical truth and comfort have been and continue to be assailed. Some Christians, including some who claim to be Reformed, prefer to speak of a "soul sleep" or an unconscious state which characterizes the period be­tween the believer's death and resur­rection. Due to an unwarranted fear of a so-called body-soul "dualism" or dichotomy, they deny any conscious fellowship between the believer and the Lord before the resurrection of the body.1

 In a somewhat similar vein, others suggest that believers are "an­nihilated" completely at death, in both body and soul, only to be resurrected subsequently at the last day. This view is largely founded upon the unbiblical assumption that man, who has been created a "living soul," cannot ex­perience any continued existence apart from the body.2 Finally, it is evi­dent that the comfort of the biblical teaching concerning the intermediate state is lost in the traditional Roman Catholic teaching of "purgatory." There is simply no biblical warrant for the doctrine of purgatory, that believers will undergo after death a period (of greater or lesser duration) of suffering to finish their "satisfac­tion" of the temporal punishment of sin.


  1. ^ This position is often due to an over-zealous inter­est in preserving against a supposed Greek distinc­tion between the body and the soul. However, the Scriptures often distinguish between the body and soul, without depreciating the body or denying the psycho-somatic unity of man (compare Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 14:13). This view also misreads the biblical simile in which death is described some­times as a "falling asleep" (compare Matthew 27:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13). The comparison in these texts is not between consciousness and un­consciousness, but between labor (including unrest and suffering) and rest or peace. For the Christian, death need not be feared because it is an entrance into rest and marks the end of our present suffering (compare the Heidelberg Catechism O. & A. 42).
  2. ^ This is a view frequently found among the cults, particularly the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists. But it would also seem to be the view most consistent with the insistence of some that the soul cannot exit apart from its relationship to the body. It is not only incompatible with the biblical teaching of the intermediate state, but also with the resurrection of the body, since it really amounts to the view that the believer will be recreated (from nothing!) at the time of the resurrection of the dead.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.