“The Resurrection of the Body”

posted by R. Fowler White

Death raises questions to which most of us anxiously want answers. What exactly is death, and where did it come from? Will it ever end? Though the thought leaders in our day suppress the answers God has given to these questions, it remains the case that if we want answers from God about death, we have to take Scripture seriously. There we read that death has not always been part of human existence. It had a beginning. At creation God fashioned the first man Adam from the dust. By sin Adam failed to keep God’s commandments, and for judgment God returned Adam—and his posterity—to the dust. From then until now, the human race has been groaning for death’s defeat, aching for the body’s deliverance from death. Meanwhile, Article 11 of the Apostles’ Creed—I believe in … the resurrection of the body—faithfully points us to Scripture where we find answers about the future of the body and of death itself.

From Scripture we learn, first, that death comes to believers and unbelievers alike and that, at death, our bodies and souls are separated. Specifically, the immortal souls of believers and unbelievers go, respectively, to heaven or hell, but our mortal bodies return to dust where they are kept until the day of resurrection and judgment (Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15;  Luke 16:23-24; Acts 1:25; Jude 6-7). From Scripture we also learn that the souls and bodies of believers and unbelievers will be reunited at the last day. When Christ returns, the bodies of the dead will be reunited with their souls and raised up by the power of Christ (Job 19:26; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:15-17; John 5:28-29; Rom 8:11). Believers’ bodies will be raised to honor, like Christ’s glorious body, and ushered into the new world to enjoy everlasting glory (1 Cor 15:21-23, 42-44; Phil 3:21). Unbeliever’s bodies will be raised to dishonor and cast into the lake of fire to suffer everlasting agony (John 5:27-29; Matt 25:33). Reading that souls and bodies will be reunited on the last day, we must be careful how we hear the confession I believe in … the resurrection of the body: do we hear encouragement or warning (Dan 12:2)?

In light of what’s been said above, someone might ask: just how certain can we be of the body’s resurrection? The Apostle tells us: because Christ’s body was raised, we can be certain that our bodies will be raised. Remember what Paul wrote: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20). In biblical terms, to be the firstfruits is to be the first sample from a full crop. That sample was seen as a sign of God’s pledge and of the people’s confidence that the rest of the harvest would follow. As the firstfruits, then, Christ is the first one to have been raised from the dead never to die again. As one commentator puts is, He is God’s down payment in guarantee of more to come, the assurance of a full harvest. Because Christ’s body was raised, then, we can be sure that our bodies will be raised.

There’s a second reason to be certain of the body’s resurrection: God’s blessed future for the human race requires it. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Cor 15:21-22: by a man came death; by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. … in Adam all die, … in Christ shall all be made alive. In the beginning, God announced the future of man: He blessed man to rule and fill the earth. But because the first man Adam failed to rule the beast that opposed God, God cursed Adam with death, and, ever since, the dead and dying children of Adam have been filling the earth. God’s future for the human race would not be frustrated, however. God promised a second man to succeed where the first man failed (Gen 3:15). As the Creed itself reminds us, God the eternal Son became that second man. In His life and death, God blessed Him to overcome sin, raising Him to resurrection life and making Him the one source of resurrection life for soul and body to all who obey His good news. You see, what Adam did does not have to affect our future. Anyone privileged to hear about Jesus should realize that He is the eternal Son who became the second man to gain victory over sin and death in order to give that same victory to all who entrust themselves to Him. United to Adam, our souls succumb to spiritual death, our bodies to physical death. United to Christ, our souls rise to new spiritual life, and our bodies to immortality. The resurrection of our bodies, then, is essential to God’s blessed future for the human race, a future belonging to all united to Christ by faith alone.

There’s a third reason to be certain of the body’s resurrection: unless our dead bodies are raised, we can’t enter the world to come. Ponder Paul’s point in 1 Cor 15:48-49. We have been like the first man Adam, with a body made for life in this present creation. Resurrection has to happen, then, so that we become like the second man Christ, with a body made for life in the new creation to come. Bodies made for this world won’t fit in the world to come (1 Cor 15:50, 53). That world will be God’s final and glorious kingdom. Neither the living nor the dead, in their present condition, can ever enter that kingdom. Our bodies must be changed to be adapted for immortal life in God’s everlasting kingdom.

What, then, is our confession about the future of the body and of death? In the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, we have God’s pledge that, as believers, our groans and aches over our mortality will end. Scripture tells us that our bodies will be delivered from death, never to die again, for death itself will die. Thus, following Scripture, we confess with the Creed: I believe in … the resurrection of the body.

We’ll meditate on Article 12 of the Creed in two installments, the first of which is here.