One of the most fundamental teachings of the Bible is the bodily resurrection from the dead at the return of Christ. It seemed fitting since we have recently discussed Christ's second coming that we should turn now turn to the resurrection of the dead. So, what does the Bible teach concerning this topic?
Christ Is Our Resurrection Pattern
First, we need to know that Christ is our resurrection pattern. In the same way, Christ was raised; we too will be raised. Looking at 1 Corinthians 15:22, we read, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." I like how Paul T. Butler explained this verse. He said, "All mankind dies bodily because of Adam's sin; all mankind is to be resurrected bodily because of Christ's victory over sin" (Butler 1992, 331). We can conclude then that in the way Christ was raised from the dead, we, too, will be raised from the dead. What then was the nature of Christ's resurrected body?
We know that Christ had a physical body after His resurrection. In Luke 24:36-43, note what Jesus said, "a spirit does not have flesh and bones." He spoke of Himself and made the point that He was not a "spirit," but a real person with flesh and bones. He also asked for food (v.41), which means He was hungry—something only a physical body would do. We also read over in John 20:24-27 of Thomas who saw the resurrected Jesus complete with holes in His hands, feet, and one in His side. There is no doubt then that Jesus was resurrected bodily. And if Christ was resurrected bodily, then we can say that we too will be resurrected bodily.
We also know that Christ's post-resurrection body was transformed or glorified at some point before He ascended. We see in Philippians 3:21 Paul says of Christ, "who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory." Our bodies will be brought into conformity with Christ's glorified body; we can say that Christ's body was transformed before He ascended into heaven. This means that our bodies, too, will be changed before we go to heaven.
There are then two natural questions that arise when talking about our future bodily resurrection. The same two questions Paul anticipated in 1 Corinthians 15:35, "but someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come? " These are the two questions we want to deal with in the remainder of this lesson.
How Are the Dead Raised?
Paul answers the first question in 1 Corinthians 15:22 "in Christ all will be made alive." And in 1 Corinthians 15:45 that Christ, "the last Adam," is "a life-giving spirit." Because of these two facts, we can say that it will be by the power of Christ that we will be resurrected.
Paul also makes this point in Romans 8:11, where he says, "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." In this section of Romans, Paul speaks of the great confidence and assurance we have in Christ before God (v.1). One of the marks of that assurance is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (vv.9-10, 14-16). And a significant component of our assurance before God is the promise that one day, He will raise us to live with Him eternally. Paul is saying that if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you, then you are assured that God will indeed raise you from the dead at the end of time by the same power that raised Jesus.
If we can understand and accept that God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, then it should not be a stretch for us to accept that He can raise our bodies from the dead as well. "Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?" Acts 26:8.
The Nature of Our Resurrected Bodies
The second question, "and with what kind of body do they [the resurrected] come?" is answered in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53. Paul begins with the fact that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." That is, our earthly mortal bodies cannot receive the immortal kingdom of God. This is illustrated by what God said to Moses in Exodus 33:20, "You cannot see Me and live!" Our bodies as they are, even resurrected, cannot comprehend the full glory and majesty of God.
Our bodies are, in the words of Paul, "sown a perishable body… sown in dishonor…in weakness… a natural body" (vv.42-44). Our bodies, as they are, cannot enter heaven. Our bodies must be made ready for eternity with God. To illustrate this, Paul compares this perishable body as a seed like the wheat of the field, and just as the seed must "die" so the wheat plant can grow, it is with our bodies. There must be a death, of sorts, for the greater, glorified, body to come (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 that this perishable body without glory will be raised. Christ will transform it. He will clothe it with immortality.
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed… and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this, perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality."
We understand that this body will be raised and transformed. However, like the Apostle John, we must confess that we do not know what that glorified body will look like. John said as much in 1 John 3:2 said, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is."
Our Victory in the Resurrection
I want to end how Paul ended in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58. Christians wait eagerly for the redemption of this body (Romans 8:23) because it means our ultimate victory over death and sin in Christ.
Paul says that when this mortal body shall put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:54), "Then will come about the saying that is written, "death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your victory?" Through Jesus, all humanity will be raised, but it is only the Christian who will be able to say on that day O death, where is your victory?
In the meantime, the resurrection provides the backdrop for our entire life with Christ. I will be raised one day; therefore, what I do here matters. The labors I engage in have eternal consequences. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Because I will one day be raised, I need to press on to that day.