Source: Nader Bekeken. 7 pages. Translated by Wim Kanis.

We Ourselves in God’s Future Will I remain myself in the new heaven and earth?

In the previous chapter, the question was dealt with: how does our world fare in God’s future? Will it soon perish or will there be a liberation through the judgment? Is there continuity with all the discontinuity? Does the new earth still have anything left of the old earth? In this chapter we will be focusing on ourselves. What will happen to us as believers in God’s future? Big changes are awaiting us. The mortal will put on immortality. Do we remain ourselves and are we really delivered? And if that is the case, how will that be? As far as our personality and our physicality are concerned, does God also hold on to the work of his hands? In other words: am I still me or will I be someone else? And when I am myself later on, what will be different?

We reflect on these questions in this chapter. This will show that, just as with the relationship between our world and the future, we can speak of both discontinuity and continuity.

Our Dying🔗

We are already dealing with discontinuity and continuity when we die. Scripture clearly teaches us that death concerns the whole human being. Genesis 2:17 leaves no misunderstanding about this: “...the day that you eat of it you will surely die.”

Paul therefore writes that the wages that sin are death (Rom. 6:23). Because of the Fall, it is ordained (by God) that people will die once (Heb. 9:27).

There has been much debate in theology about the immortality of the soul. Often Greek philosophical ideas played a role in this. Dr. H. Bavinck pointed out that the influence of the Greek philosopher Plato has been amazingly great. But the idea of ​​an immortal part (the soul) of man does not agree with what Scripture teaches. God alone possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). Through our sin death has come upon us (Rom. 5:12) and so we die (as total people) in Adam (1 Cor. 15:22).

Does our death then only cause discontinuity? Is it the total break with everything we have been, and should the conclusion be that we are no longer there when our life on earth comes to an end?

Scripture unmistakably says that this is not the case. It turns out that death — even for the unbelievers — does not mean that they are no longer there. The rich man in the parable is in a place where he experiences torments, while he is seeing and speaking (Luke 16:23). J. van Bruggen writes in connection with the reality value of this parable: “The fact that Jesus can tell this parable is therefore also proof of the reality of a (separate) conscious continuation between death and resurrection, even though the parable does not provide access to a more detailed knowledge of that reality.”

Regardless of how little the Scriptures say about the dying of unbelievers, this parable casts us that the “I”, i.e., the personality of the unbeliever, is not destroyed at death. It exists, there is not only discontinuity, something continues. The rich man is still the man who allowed Lazarus to decay on earth. Precisely because he is the same man, he is tormented!

Van Bruggen speaks about a (separate) “continuous life”. It seems more accurate to me to speak of a separate existence. For, as far as I see, the Scripture never uses the word “life” for the condition of the unbelievers after death. On the contrary, the unbelievers when they die are called “dead” (see Rev. 20:5). But even though they are “dead”, their existence as a human being has no end. God’s anger that already rested upon them during their earthly existence remains upon them even after their death (see John 3:36).

The parable teaches us that death is indeed the end of earthly human existence, but it does not mean the end of man as such. There is also continuity. A continuity that cannot be traced back to an “immortal soul”, but to God’s will and work.

God maintains the personhood of the unbeliever even after death. He made the rich man come into the place of torment, for he wants to show his wrath to the wicked also after death. There is continuity! But it is a continuity that has to do with God’s anger. If only with death everything was finished for the unbelievers. But it is different: as a person they continue to exist and they experience how God’s wrath remains on them.

Fortunately, God’s children face a different outcome when they die. Their death is completely different from that of the unbelievers because of Christ’s victory over death. For them it may be a “departure” to Christ (Phil. 1:23), a “being taking up with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5: 8). They already have eternal life (John 3:16, 36). A life that consists in “knowing” their Saviour (John 17: 3). This eternal life, this communion with Christ, is not broken up when the believer dies. On the contrary, this communion becomes even more wonderful, because it is no longer disturbed by sin and lack of faith. Paul calls this dying “gain” (Phil 1:21). It is gain in this that God’s children can enjoy fellowship with Christ in an entirely new, undisturbed way and in an as yet unknown intensity.

The Lord Jesus teaches us how much the end of our earthly life has been changed by his victory when he says that whoever believes in him will never die and will live in eternity, even though he died (John 11:25-26). ). There is certainly a lot of discontinuity in our dying. There is a tremendous amount of things that come to an end. Ties are loosened. Our physical existence is being broken down. Finally, we take our last breath. We die.

And yet at the same time there is a wonderful continuity: our fellowship with Christ remains, yes, it is glorified. We die, but at the same time it is true: see, we are alive! Lazarus is in Abraham’s womb. It is the same Lazarus who at the time lying on the pavement of the rich man, covered with sores. And it is the same Abraham who was set by the Lord to be the father of all believers.

God really takes us through death. We may take up residence with the Lord. Our “I” does not perish at death. It lives on thanks to Christ’s conquest. It continues “with the Lord” and “with Christ”.

The Intermediate State🔗

In reformed theology, the time after death and before the return of the Lord Jesus is usually called the intermediate state. This use of language intends to honour that everything in the New Testament is focused on Christ’s coming in glory and that the full glory is still in the future. The believers who have passed away know heavenly happiness, but have not yet come to “perfection” (see Heb. 11:40).

The existence of an intermediate state has not remained undisputed. Calvin already had to turn against Anabaptists who claimed that the souls of deceased people are sleeping until the last judgment and that there is therefore no conscious existence after death. In the criticism on the intermediate state three perspectives are involved.

First of all there is objection from the eschatology (the doctrine of the last things): the focus on an intermediate state places too much emphasis on the blissful destiny of the individual, whereas the New Testament emphasizes the final judgment. There is a dangerous narrowing of biblical expectations for the future.

Criticism has also been exercised from the perspective of chronology (the doctrine of time): God’s deceased children are no longer in the “realm of time”. That is why nothing is “experienced” after death. For God’s children, the moment of death coincides with the latest day, just as a train traveler may fall asleep and wakes up at the station of arrival.

With B. Telder we mainly encounter objections from the perspective of anthropology (the doctrine of man). He strongly opposed the dichotomist point of view, in which man is seen as composed of two (substantial) parts: body and soul. Telder sees in Lord’s Day 22 of the Heidelberg Catechism an indication of terms borrowed from an unbiblical anthropology. A “soul” does not go to heaven after death. “Once we will fall asleep and wake up the next day. Then we have fallen asleep in the sleep of death. But even then we are awakened again at the last day, when the trumpet will sound and the Lord will appear on the clouds of heaven.” (Telder, Dying...and then, Kampen 1960).

These criticisms as mentioned are not tenable in light of what Scripture teaches us. I have already pointed to the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus. After death God’s children are indeed conscious of heavenly happiness. The criminal on the cross received the promise: “ you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul sees the gain of dying in being united with Christ (Phil 1:23) and calls it instead being at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5: 8).

What this “being at home with Christ” means in concrete terms, Scripture is sober about. We hear about a “rest from their labour” (Rev. 14:13). God’s children may rest from all that they have endured on earth for Christ’s sake. They may experience that there is a “Sabbath rest” left for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). We also hear how the “souls” under the altar call out, “how long before you will judge and avenge our blood...?” (Rev. 6:10). We even read that God’s dead children are priests of God and reign with Christ as kings (Rev. 20: 6). It all testifies to a conscious life after death and a glory that is experienced.

There is no such thing for the believer as an “intermission” of sleep in the grave. On the contrary, when they die they share in “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:8). John sees how deceased martyrs “came to life again” (Rev. 20:4). We can also translate: they started to live again. He sees how death for them is a passage into life! It is striking that John — although he does not speak of a physical resurrection — says that they (the decapitated ones) started to live again. Again we discover the continuity here thanks to Christ’s victory. The martyrs live on. Their being, their “I”, has not been destroyed. They are really the ones who rule with Christ.

“My Soul”🔗

It will not have escaped the reader’s attention that in connection with the survival of unbelievers and the survival of believers after death I spoke about their “I” or their “person”. Our confession uses here the word “soul”. Answer 57 of the Heidelberger confesses that after this life “my soul” immediately is taken to Christ, its Head. Article 37 of the Belgic Confession of Faith speaks about “the souls” of the deceased, who will soon be united with their own bodies. It cannot be denied that our reformed fathers in their view of man often contrasted “the soul” too sharply with a body that is distinct from them and so lost sight of how much Scriptures see man as a unit. But someone who therefore does not have a good word to say about the formulation used by the Heidelberger (as B. Telder did) make too hasty conclusions. The fact that the Catechism is talking about “my soul” in connection with the death of God’s children is well defensible and does not have to mean a bowing to a (Greek) dichotomist concept of man.

The word “soul” (nefesh in the Old Testament and psychè in the New Testament) has a broad field of meaning. It can stand for “breath of life” (1 Kings 17:21, Acts 20:10), for “life force” (Lev. 17:11), for the inner being of man (Deut. 11:18; Luke 2:35), but also for man himself (Ezek. 18:4, Acts 2:41). In the continuation of this last meaning is the mentioning of “the souls” of the deceased martyrs in Revelation (6:10; 20:4) and the speaking of Peter about the salvation of “the souls” as the goal of their faith (1 Peter 1:9).

When the Catechism confesses that “my soul” is immediately taken up to Christ after this life, this fits in with the parlance of Scripture. We may understand this in such a way that the believer himself is included. His “I”, his “personality” is transferred through death. Dying is a “passage” for him (HC QA 42). If his “I” would fail, there is no real passage! The fact that we may interpret the term “soul” in answer 57 in this way is also apparent from answer 58: after this life I will inherit complete glory. Here “my soul” is interspersed with “me”.

We cannot conceive of this continuation of ourselves with Christ. We lack our earthly constitution in which our spiritual activities are connected with our brains and nerves. How can you see, call and reign yourself, without physical eyes, mouth and brain? This remains a mystery of which we may say with K. Schilder, “Would it be too wonderful for God to give the son (i.e., man) what the servant (i.e., the angel) received?”

Resurrection of Our Body🔗

The happiness that we may experience immediately after death is indeed not right away the “perfection” (Heb. 11:40). Paul writes that we anticipate “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). He thus refers to the redemption of our way of existence in the body. All of that existence — in its relationship of the psychic with the physical — will once be redeemed. That is what the church means when it confesses the resurrection of the flesh (or: “the body”) in its Credo.

This confession received its place very early in the Creed, because the church had to stand up against a spiritualism that considered that salvation had already been reached when the soul had left the body. Already in the New Testament we hear of this error (see 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Tim. 2:18).

Contrary to this the New Testament testifies that there is indeed redemption of our physical existence. In fact, the resurrection of our body is inseparably bound to Christ’s resurrection. For Paul writes: “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Cor. 6:14) and says that Christ is resurrected as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). The apostle emphasizes how much our resurrection from the grave is given with Christ’s resurrection, when he makes it clear that one cannot believe in Christ’s resurrection and at the same time still doubt a resurrection from the dead (1 Cor.15:12, 13, 16). Because of Christ’s resurrection at Easter, we are expecting the day when he “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).

When we examine what Scripture says about “the future body” (1 Cor. 15:37), we are first and foremost faced with discontinuity. “Humiliated” contrasts with “glorified” (Phil. 3:21), “natural” with “spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:44), “perishable” with “imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:42), “dishonour” with “glory”, “weakness” with “power” (1 Cor. 15:43), “mortal” contrasts with “immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53).

The question arises, is there still any continuity left between the body of today and the body that we will receive later? Do we receive a totally new body that has nothing to do with the body that has been put in the grave?

The church has also clearly confessed continuity here. The Heidelberger says in Answer 57 that this my body shall be raised by the power of Christ. Article 37 of the Belgic Confession even speaks of the fact that all the deceased will rise from the earth and that “their souls joined and united with the proper bodies in which they formerly lived”. I believe that the church is speaking here according to Scripture. Paul is talking about “this perishable that must put on the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:53) and about our “lowly body that is transformed to be like Christ’s glorified body” (Phil. 3:21). Also in regard to our physical existence the Lord does not abandon the work of his hands. In the redemption he does not repeat his work of creation but liberates it from all consequences of sin. It really is the body in which we now live that is taken from the grave and is glorified. We regain our own body, the physical existence that is connected to our specific personality and that expresses it.

The How🔗

Theologians have tried to specify the how of this wondrous continuity. For example, A. Kuyper talks about “the invisible germ” of our body, which is preserved. And H. Bavinck speaks of an “organic basic form” that serves as a seed for the body of the resurrection.

But we must recognize that with these distinctions we end up in speculations. The Scriptures do not reveal to us the miracle of this continuity. We will later receive a glorified body, but how this body is at the same time also the body in which we have lived here on earth, that is the secret of the Holy Spirit who will once make our mortal body come alive (Rom. 8:11). J. van Genderen speaks correctly of a “pneumatological continuity”.

Our body of today becomes a “Spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), i.e., a body worked and controlled by the Holy Spirit. And so it will also be imperishable, immortal, representing glory and power (1 Cor.15:42, 43, 53) In its appearance it will be similar to the glorified body with which our Saviour rose from the dead. It will be a real body: the disciples could see Jesus’ hands and sides (John 20:20) and they were permitted to touch him to discover that he was not a spirit without flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).


The church makes a high pitch in its Creed by not mentioning the “revival” but the resurrection of the body. It is not too high, for Paul proclaims that those who have died in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:16,see “resurrection” in Heb. 6: 2). Here, the wondrous continuity is clearly indicated! In Christ the “mortal remains” will be resurrected, but as a believer I will arise from the grave. The Holy Spirit is so much the One who makes alive that he raises me up so that I am no longer lying down in the dust of death.

It is as it was with the Lord Jesus: he was raised (Rom. 6:4) and at the same time it also holds true: he arose from the dead (Luke 24:46). When we fully assert that it will not only be a revival (= an act of the Spirit), but also a resurrection (= an act of ours by the Spirit), then it appears to me that the Heidelberger’s way of speaking in Answer 57 is not even entirely sufficient. First of all because the aspect of being raised is not mentioned, but also because our textbook gives the impression that first my body is raised and that after this my soul is reunited with the raised body. BC Article 37 says this very clearly: “...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.”

The intent of Article 37 is clear. The church aims to confess that all people will be judged “personally”, as complete people. It is not just “souls” that appear before Christ’s judgment seat.

But whereas Lord’s Day 22 wants to proclaim the splendour of the resurrection of the body, there is more to be said than the Heidelberger does. My body will not only be resurrected soon, but I am also rising from the dead. Revival and resurrection are brought together as one by the power of the Spirit! It will soon be a matter of being resurrected and at the same time also the time to rise. It is through that miracle of the Spirit that Paul can explicitly say: those who have died in Christ will rise first.

Over much of what we were talking about in this chapter there remains a veil of mystery. Anthropologically we cannot clarify anything. It has not yet been revealed what we will be (1 John 3:2). It has become clear, however, that in addition to much discontinuity, there is also continuity between what we are now and what we will be later. He who knit us together in the womb (Ps. 139:13) does not let go the work of his hands (Ps. 138:8). He saves us from sin, but also from all the consequences of sin. Our “lowly body” also gets its turn. We are really and completely redeemed. The Lord Jesus takes us entirely into account.

He makes it true through all discontinuity of dying and being buried. He really saves, for I remain me, even if my existence here on earth ends, for I may stay with the Lord and wait there for the great day on which this my body is raised and I will rise!

Points for further discussion🔗

  1. Do you have a certain curiosity about the wonderful future that has been promised to us? Do you have your fantasies or do you want to be surprised?
  2. How can Paul qualify dying to be “gain”?
  3. God’s wrath continues to rest on the unbelievers also after their death. How then can you long for the new heaven and earth when you have loved ones who do not believe?
  4. What does Scripture teach about our resurrection body?
  5. Compare with each other the fact of being resurrected and the act of rising on your own.

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