After we die, our bodies will (likely) be buried and then slowly decay. After many years, no distinguishable feature of our corpse will be left in the ground. Then we will resurrect from the dead. How? Will the biological material, dispersed through the ground, adapted into the flora and fauna, and consumed by animal life now be torn from these sources?
And then what will our body be like? Will it be like we have now but with what we might call super powers? Will a disabled body from birth have an abled body that, in many ways, will look and act quite different in the resurrection (as in the case with cerebral palsy)? And if someone has a disability of cognition in this life but not in the next, then in what sense will this person’s consciousness remain between the first life and the next?
We can ask a great deal many more questions. Suffice it to say, our resurrection bodies and the experience of our resurrection life lies under a cloud of mystery. Yet Scripture does provide certain key rails for our train of thought on the resurrection. They are:
Our resurrection body will be immortal and incorrupt
In the most detailed passage on the resurrection in Scripture, Paul asserts: “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50). Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom?
Yet Christians as a whole affirm that our resurrection body will be continuous with our body now, and today we have flesh and blood. If we keep reading, however, Paul’s sense become clear (and in the next heading below even more so). The apostle explains, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor 15:51–52).
Paul thus conceives of a change from flesh and blood into something else. What is that something else? The apostle writes, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:52–53).
The change Paul conceives of is one from flesh and blood (I have yet to define that phrase) to imperishability (lit: incorruptibility, a much better term). We move from a “perishable body” to an imperishable body. We move from a “mortal body” to an immortal body.
This then explains what Paul means by “flesh and blood.” By this phrase, he signifies a corrupt and mortal existence. The resurrection changes us into a incorrupt and immortal existence. We therefore have a resurrection body like Jesus’ who conquered death, a body that God did not allow to see corruption in sheol (Ps 16:10).
Corruption means decay—of both flesh and soul. Mortal means being liable to the cessation of bodily life. In essence, to be incorrupt means to be free of original sin and bodily decay whereas immortal means unending bodily life.
To use a bad pun, we can flesh this out by looking at the resurrection account in the Gospel of John.
Our resurrection body will be Spiritual—able to see visible and invisible realities
In John’s Gospel, there are two resurrections: Lazarus and Jesus. The first resurrection leads to life in the old age. John tells us this because Lazarus emerges from the tomb with his burial clothes on and the Spirit had not yet been given (John 7:39).
One key difference in the second resurrection is that Jesus’ clothes lie there in the tomb (John 20:5–7). He moved through them. This observation finds confirmation when Jesus twice appears to his disciples by appearing in a room in which, as John reminds us, the door was locked (John 20:19, 26). By specifying the locked door, John wants us to know that Jesus entered by a unique means—by a Spiritual movement.
Yet the Spiritual nature of Jesus’ resurrection body does not entail that he is fleshless or a floating poltergeist. Thomas feels the holes in his hand where the nails pierced him and his side where the spear entered (John 20:27).
In this sense, Jesus both interacts with physical and spiritual reality, with visible and invisible things. His ascent to heaven later proves that, though he remains in a human body, he can see and interact with spiritual beings in the heavenly realm.
His body can see both visible and invisible realities. We will receive the same kind of body. While we now live in hope and faith, at the resurrection we will see truly—our hope and faith will become sight. This spiritual sight will mean that as we can see physical realities today, then we will see spiritual realities with as much clarity—not least of which will be seeing God (Rev 22:4).
The Apostle Paul confirms these observations in 1 Corinthians 15:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15:44–49).
Paul uses an agricultural metaphor to specify that in this life we sow our natural body into the ground, and in the resurrection we will possess a “spiritual body.” Citing Genesis 2:7 where Adam receives the breath of life from God, Paul parallels Jesus’ resurrection ministry by calling him a “life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). We receive spiritual life by becoming spiritual in Christ.
The consequence is that we bear the image of the man from heaven. And become “those who are of heaven.” The point is that we follow Jesus in his resurrection by sharing the same kind of body that he has, namely, a spiritual and heavenly one. It should be obvious that a spiritual body does not mean a poltergeist—but a body that can both interact with physical and metaphysical realities—one qualified to walk the earth and to stroll in heaven.
We will have both physical and spiritual sight. Now, we pray, hope, and believe. Then, we will have, see, and experience joy forevermore.
Our resurrection body will be able to be with God
One result of our spiritual body will be the ability to see God: We “will see his face” (Rev 22:4). Before this, no one could see God and live (Exod 33:20). Only the Son of God could (John 1:18). But by being in Christ, bearing his image through the resurrection, we can.
Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). Our dim and partial knowledge becomes a face-to-face knowledge with full knowledge.
Yet as John warns, we cannot overestimate our present knowledge or even what that future life will look like. He explains, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Some things are simply not yet revealed to us yet. As John elsewhere tells us, he is forbidden from writing down the words of seven thunders: “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down” (Rev 10:4). And it is not just the thunderous words, but even other matters in this age remain a mystery (2 Cor 12:4).
What we do know is that we shall know God face to face, something unprecedented in history, notwithstanding Moses’s experience of God. And this new and realized hope only comes to us because we will have an incorrupt, immortal, and spiritual body.