Bodily Resurrection: Don't Settle For Less By Randy Alcom

Bodies aren't shells for souls, they're part of who we are. Any afterlife view that denies bodily resurrection is unchristian.

The  major Christian creeds state, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." But I have found in many conversations that Christians tend to spiritualize the resurrection of the dead, effectively denying it. They don't reject it as a doctrine, but they deny its essential meaning: a permanent return to a physical existence in a physical universe.

Of Americans who believe in a resurrection of the dead, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection. But this is self-contradictory. A non-physical resurrection is like a sunless sunrise. There's no such thing. Resurrection means that we will have bodies. If we didn't have bodies, we wouldn't be resurrected!
The biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the dead begins with the human body but extends far beyond it. R. A. Torrey writes, "We will not be disembodied spirits in the world to come, but redeemed spirits, in redeemed bodies, in redeemed universe." If we don't get it right on the resurrection of the body, we'll get nothing else right. It's therefore critical that we not merely affirm the resurrection of the dead as a point of doctrine but that we understand the meaning of the resurrection we affirm.

Genesis 2:7 says, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." The Hebrew word for "living being" is nephesh, often translated "soul." The point at which Adam became nephesh is when God joined his body (dust) and spirit (breath) together. Adam was not a living human being until he had both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you-it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit.

If this idea seems wrong to us, it's because we have been deeply influenced by Christoplatonism. From a christoplatonic perspective, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally-or even ideally-live in a disembodied state.

It's no coincidence that the apostle Paul's detailed defense of the physical resurrection of the dead was written to the church at Corinth. More than any other New Testament Christians, the Corinthian believers were immersed in the Greek philosophies of Platonism and dualism, which perceived a dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. The biblical view of human nature, however, is radically different. Scripture indicates that God designed our bodies to be an integral part of our total being. Our physical bodies are an essential aspect of who we are, not just shells for our spirits to inhabit.

Death is an abnormal condition because it tears apart what God created and joined together. God intended for our bodies to last as long as our souls. Those who believe in Platonism or in preexistent spirits see a disembodied soul as natural and even desirable. The Bible sees it as unnatural and undesirable. We are unified beings. That's why the bodily resurrection of the dead is so vital. And that's why Job rejoiced that in his flesh he would see God (Job 19:26).

When God sent Jesus to die, it was for our bodies as well as our spirits. He came to redeem not just "the breath of life" (spirit) but also "the dust of the ground" (body). When we die, it isn't that our real self goes to the intermediate Heaven and our fake self goes to the grave; it's that part of us goes to the intermediate Heaven and part goes to the grave to await our bodily resurrection. We will never be all that God intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in resurrection.

Any views of the afterlife that settle for less than a bodily resurrection-including Christoplatonism, reincarnation, and transmigration of the soul-are explicitly unchristian. The early church waged major doctrinal wars against Gnosticism and Manichaeism, dualistic worldviews that associated God with the spiritual realm of light and Satan with the physical world of darkness. These heresies contradicted the biblical account that says God was pleased with the entire physical realm, all of which he created and called "very good" (Genesis 1:31). The truth of Christ's resurrection repudiated the philosophies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Nevertheless, two thousand years later, these persistent heresies have managed to take hostage our modern theology of Heaven.


Our incorrect thinking about bodily resurrection stems from our failure to understand the environment in which resurrected people will live-the New Earth. Anthony Hoekema is right:
"Resurrected bodies are not intended just to float in space, or to flit from cloud to cloud. They call for a new earth on which to live and to work, glorifying God. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in fact makes no sense whatever apart from the doctrine of the new earth."

Paul says that if Christ didn't rise from the dead, we're still in our sins (1 Corin thians 15:17)-meaning we'd be bound for Hell, not Heaven. Paul doesn't just say that if there's no Heaven, the Christian life is futile. He's says that if there's no resurrection of the dead, then the hope of Christianity is an illusion, and we're to be pitied for placing our faith in Christ. Paul has no interest in a Heaven that's merely for human spirits.

Wishful thinking is not the reason why, deep in our hearts, we desire a resurrected life on a resurrected Earth instead of a disembodied existence in a spiritual realm. Rather, it is precisely because God intends for us to be raised to new life on the New Earth that we desire it. It is God who created us to desire what we are made for. It is God who "set eternity in the hearts of men" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It is God who designed us to live on Earth and to desire the earthly life. And it is our bodily resurrection that will allow us to return to an earthly life--this time freed from sin and the Curse.

That's God's idea, not ours. Our desires simply correspond to God's intentions, because he implanted his intentions into us in the form of our desires.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Becoming a new creation sounds as if it involves a radical change, and indeed it does. But though we become new people when we come to Christ, we still remain the same people.

When I came to Christ as a high school student, I became a new person, yet I was still the same person I'd always been. My mother saw a lot of changes, but she still recognized me. She still said, "Good morning, Randy," not "Who are you?" I was still Randy Alcorn, though a substantially transformed Randy Alcorn. This same Randy will undergo another change at death, and yet another change at the resurrection of the dead. But through all the changes I will still be who I was and who I am. There will be continuity from this life to the next. I will be able to say with Job, "In my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another" (Job 19:26-27).

Conversion does not mean eliminating the old but transforming it. Despite the radical changes that occur through salvation, death, and resurrection, we remain who we are. We have the same history, appearance, memory, interests, and skills. This is the principle of redemptive continuity. God will not scrap his original creation and start over. Instead, he will take his fallen, corrupted children and restore, refresh, and renew us to our original design.

SCRIPTURES TEACH A PHYSICAL BODILY RESURRECTION: What does this mean practically? It means that the very body which dies and is buried must and will be raised from the dead. There is no resurrection where the body committed to the ground does not come up from it. The final change is not a merely spiritual resurrection. When Jesus was raised from the dead, this meant that the tomb and the graveclothes were empty of that very body which they had contained (John 20:1-8). So also, when Jesus summons the dead in the day of the resurrection, that action entails that those "in the tombs...shall come forth" John 5:28, 29). This same basic fact is conveyed in the analogy of a seed used by the Apostle Paul which beautifully epitomizes both the continuity and discontinuity of the resurrection body to this one (1 Cor. 15:35-38). It is the physical life committed to the ground in the seed which springs up in the plant which grows from it. The existence of the plant means that there is no longer a dead seed buried in the ground.

1. One implication of this is that the resurrection body is a physical body. The resurrection life is bodily and material. This must be so if it is to be in any sense the continuation of the old body. The new body is not heavenly or spiritual in the sense of being immaterial.

Some have misapplied or misunderstood the language of the Apostle Paul in relation to this issue. The phrase, "heavenly body," (1 Cor. 15:48) has seemed to some to designate an ethereal, non-physical, body. This is, however, to read Greek or Platonic ideas into biblical language. Paul has described some very physical, heavenly bodies in the immediately preceding context (1 Cor. 15:40-42).

The phrase, "spiritual body," (v. 44) has also been understood to mean a body composed of spirit. This is, again, a complete misunderstanding of Paul's meaning.

One of the difficulties here is that the expression "a spiritual body" has led many to think that the resurrection body will be a nonphysical one--spiritual is then thought to be in contrast with physical.

That this is not so can be easily shown. The resurrection body of the believer, we have seen, will be like the resurrection body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:48, 49). But Christ's resurrection body was certainly a physical one; he could be touched (John 20:17, 27) and he could eat food (Luke 24:38-43). Further, the spiritual....does not describe that which is nonmaterial or nonphysical. Note how Paul uses the same contrast in the same epistle, chapter 2:14-15: "Now the receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual....judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man" (ASV). Here the same two Greek words....are used as in 15:44. But does not mean nonphysical. Rather, it means someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit, at least in principle, in distinction from someone who is guided only by his natural impulses. In similar fashion, the natural body described in 15:44 is one which is part of this present, sin-cursed existence; but the spiritual body of the resurrection is one which will be totally, not just partially, dominated and directed by the Holy Spirit.

....Our future existence....will be an existence completely and totally ruled by the Holy Spirit, so that we shall be forever done with sin. Therefore the body of the resurrection is called a spiritual body. Geerhardus Vos is correct when he insists that we ought to capitalize the word spiritual in this verse (1 Cor. 15:44--SW), so as to make clear that the verse describes the state in which the Holy Spirit rules the body.

Some also have misunderstood the language of v. 50 to the same effect: "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." Paul's point here is not that the resurrection body is immaterial, but that it is imperishable, v. 50b. The phrase, "flesh and blood," is used to describe the weak and mortal character of our present bodies which are as such unfit for the future kingdom of God. The language of vv. 51-54 confirms that what we have here is not immaterial bodies, but imperishable ones. The body is not abolished. It is "changed." It is raised "imperishable." It puts on "immortality." In Luke 24:39 Jesus stated that his resurrection body was "flesh and bones."

It is this body with different qualities than it now possesses. As Hodge says, it is "not a new body substituted for the old, but the old changed into the new."

1. Its Pattern--"made conformable to his own glorious body"

1. While the Confession says nothing about the pattern of the resurrection of the unjust, it explicitly asserts that Christ's resurrection body is the pattern for our own.

The glory of the resurrection body consists, first of all, in this: it is made like Christ's glorious body (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 48, 49; Rom. 8:17, 29, 30; Col. 1:18; 3:4; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 1:5). As already intimated, this pervasive teaching of Scripture means that what we know of Christ's resurrection body will be true of ours.

2. Its Agent--"his Spirit"

While the Confession remarks in general that the unjust are raised by the power of Christ, in distinct contrast to this it asserts that the righteous are raised by His Spirit.

We have already seen that when Paul describes the new body as a Spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44-46), the term, Spiritual, should be capitalized because it is a reference to the Spirit of God. This predicates of the resurrection body an intimate relation with the Spirit of God. It is a body ruled, indwelt, and energized supremely by the Spirit of God. All of this already clearly implies the agency of the Spirit of Christ in the resurrection of the righteous.

Many other passages intimate this same thought (Rom. 8:1; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Gal. 6:8). The classic statement about the roll of the Spirit in the resurrection is, however, Rom. 8:11. Each of these passages speaks of the Spirit's agency in the resurrection of the righteous as part and parcel of His saving work. This is the reason why the Confession asserts that the righteous are raised by His Spirit, while stating more generally that the unjust are raised by the power of Christ. The resurrection of the righteous is a part of the salvation of the righteous, while the resurrection of the unjust has nothing to do with salvation.

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