Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Body, No Body, New Body

A question over dinner prompts some Scripture study

Perhaps it has been the recent passing of a number of friends and family here at Grace that prompted the question, but at last Wednesday's church dinner, I was invited into a discussion of whether we have a body after our death and before the resurrection comes. I shared my thoughts, but decided to look back at the Scriptures to confirm them. As I did so, I thought this might be something some of the rest of the family might benefit. So, here is the basic problem that was being considered::
  1. Humans are made as spirits in bodies.
  2. Sin brought physical death, which is separation of spirit and body.
  3. Jesus saves sinners, and his resurrection is proof of that, and the pattern of what is to come--we will be raised in glory like he was.
  4. When we die, we are away from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), or "with Christ" as it says in Philippians 1:23.
  5. We receive a new body when we are raised in the resurrection--the physical body that was left on the earth is raised as a glorious body when the trumpet sounds and Christ returns (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16).
  6. So then, if we left one body, and don't get our new body until the resurrection, what are we between dying here and being resurrected in the future?
A simple conclusion can be drawn. We are spirits temporarily without physical bodies. But that sounds weird to our minds. Can that be?

Some say, "no," and assume that God simply gives us a body for that intermediate time. That seems logical, after all, how would we function as humans in heaven without one? Those who hold this view point to evidence in the Transfiguration account, where Moses and Elijah were seen by the disciples on the mountain (see Luke 9:28-35). They must have had bodies to be seen, since we can't see spirits.

But, I think that the Scripture supports the simple conclusion I stated--death brings about a temporary separation between our spirits and bodies. Let me give you some reasons I think this and how I would answer objections.

  1. Going to Heaven when we die is wonderful--far better, Paul says, than living in a sinful world (Phil 1:23). But it is not complete. If we had glorified bodies there, why would the resurrection matter? It would be nothing more than acting out a story, rather than an actual redemption of the body from the power of sin and death. 
  2. Paul says that being "present with the Lord" is a state of being "unclothed" for us--read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 slowly. We are currently in our earthly (dying) "tent"--this body. We long to be clothed in our "heavenly" (eternal) dwelling which we will put on and not ultimately be found "naked"--what is that referring to? I believe that it is our longing to experience not just release from this body, but the resurrection body which is our perfect, "heavenly" dwelling, or "home" as opposed to a "tent" which is temporary. Our spirits are temporarily "unclothed" as we wait for our resurrection body. The idea is that we have more to receive after we die than just being with Jesus (which is, of course, incredible). 
  3. "But how could we recognize one another? We'd all be invisible!" That is thinking not anchored in fact. Think about a few stories in Scripture. Remember when King Saul went to a medium and asked him to call up the spirit of Samuel (it is in 1 Samuel 28, and it is a very interesting story)? God allowed that to happen, and Samuel actually appeared to him--but it was his spirit, not a resurrected Samuel. How could Saul see him? Either God made it possible, or else when a human sees another human spirit, that spirit has an appearance like the person had when in a body. That may be how Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount of Transfiguration  (Elijah's a tough case, since God took him to heaven directly without death). And when Rhoda, the servant girl in Acts 12 said she saw Peter at the door, those praying inside said she is seeing his angel--perhaps his guardian angel was their thought, or perhaps they thought it was his spirit (I doubt this option, though, since they knew angels were not dead humans). Either way, they figured that a spirit had been visible to Rhoda. And we know that angels are spirits (Hebrews 1 tells us that) but when they choose to appear, we see them. Perhaps God gives them a temporary body, but he could also give us the ability to see them, as he did Elisha's servant in Dothan (see 2 Kings 6:8-17). Finally John sees the souls of martyrs under the altar (Revelation 6). This is before the resurrection, but they are given white robes--how will they wear them? Won't they just fall off? Apparently not. I'm not sure how, but perhaps they are spiritual robes for spirit beings.
  4. Why long for the resurrection? Well, I think it's because we are made to be spirits in bodies. Our bodies have no life without a spirit. And our spirits will, likely, find life without a body incomplete and frustrating. Life after death with Jesus will be very good indeed, but it won't be complete--yet. We still have his return, our resurrection, his rule, final judgment, and life in new heavens and new earth to look forward to. So, this life is the worst it gets for us, and the next step is better, and the step after that even much better still, until we get to the fullness of the life for which we were created.

So, I would suggest that when we die, we leave this earthly body behind to take up a joyous, blessed, but temporary state of existence as spirits without bodies in the presence of Jesus. We need not think it will be uncomfortable or embarrassing or weird--but it will be different, and it will be incomplete, so that we will long for the day of resurrection to come--just as we should long for it now. But don't be afraid; Paul still says it is "far better" than here.

Perhaps you'd like to be with Jesus but escape being without a body. There is a group of people for whom that will be the case--those who are alive and remain until Jesus' coming (go back to 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff). So you should be praying the prayer at the end of Revelation--"even so, come Lord Jesus" even more fervently!