Will our bodies last forever? The answer that Christianity offers is a resounding “yes.” The resurrection of Jesus promises that someday we, too, will rise from the grave. This is no metaphor. The resurrection is not some symbol of a “spiritual” reality. No; the resurrection teaches that just as Christ was physically raised in the center of human history, so too will our own bodies be physically raised at the end of human history—and the beginning of the eternal Kingdom.
This is what Paul had in mind when he addressed the church in Corinth:
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 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.49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-48)
We might point out that even for Paul, he was a bit fuzzy on the details. Our bodies are eternal, he said, but in verses 42 and following he indicates that the resurrected body won’t quite be like the one we have now.
This is what separates resurrection from mere resuscitation. Resuscitation merely means to bring back from the dead, only to die again later; resurrection means that the body is somehow changed into something immortal. So no, young people, Jesus wasn’t a zombie. His flesh was not merely resuscitated, he was resurrected. He had become something else entirely.
And so will we.
THE ETERNAL BODY
This raises (no pun intended) all sorts of odd, though practical questions:
- How old will our bodies be? Will infants be older? Will our grandparents be younger?
- Will I still have the scar from my caesarian section, or from where I fell off the swing-set as a kid?
- If I have tattoos, will my resurrected body have tattoos?
- If I’m overweight, will my resurrected body be slimmer?
- Since my resurrected body is “imperishable,” will I still need to eat, drink, sleep, etc.?
- If the Christian hope is physical resurrection, is it therefore wrong for Christians to get cremated?
- If I donate a kidney, who gets the kidney back on the day of resurrection?
If you strain too hard on some of these questions, you’ll go absolutely nuts. But you wouldn’t be the first. St. Augustine actually addressed some of these concerns in his book The City of God, which was written around the time that Rome was being sacked by the Visigoths (ca. 409 A.D.). While Rome was under siege, some had to turn to the ghastly necessity of cannibalism to stave off hunger. This raised an important theological question: if Jerry’s body is now inside the bellies and nourishing the bodies of me and my family, what happens on the day of resurrection? This isn’t that far removed from our question about the kidney, above. Augustine basically said that we needn’t worry; if God can form man from the dust, surely he can re-form him from the dust after we’re gone. Interestingly, in the medieval period there were woodcuts (pieces of art) produced depicting scenes of the resurrection, and in those scenes there are dogs and wild animals literally vomiting up the severed limbs of resurrected humans. The message was clear—though pretty gross—resurrection means we become restored.
Our modern era has so sanitized and domesticated death that thinking about these types of things must seem…well, unthinkable. But surely they make us pause and wonder just how exactly God intends to pull this off. And again, the Bible doesn’t give us every detail, but we might look to Jesus—that is, the resurrected Jesus—for some clues as to what this resurrected body might be like:
- Jesus’ body was the same age. That is, when he came back, he looked the same as he did when he died. True, many of his disciples were somehow kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:16), but this may have been the intervention of the Spirit rather than a facet of Jesus’ actual body.
- Jesus still had the scars of crucifixion. Some writers of the early church believed that martyrs would still bear their wounds after the resurrection, only now they would be marks of courage and glory. I often wonder if our cultural standards of beauty will still apply in the resurrected kingdom of God…
- Jesus ate. Jesus ate some broiled fish with his disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:42). Revelation describes the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:1-9). I could be wrong, but a dinner party would be awfully lame if we couldn’t dig in.
- Jesus’ body had supernatural abilities. After the crucifixion, the disciples gathered in the upper room with the door locked, but Jesus somehow came right in without even knocking. Apparently the resurrection body isn’t bound by the traditional limits of time and space.
Though I don’t know that we should count on every detail (I don’t know that we’ll all be 30-year-olds, for example), but Jesus’ body helps us see what our bodies might be like in the glorified future.
DEATH WORKING BACKWARD
The greatest consequence, of course, is that the curse of death will finally be lifted:
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
Paul here alludes to Isaiah 25:8 and God’s promise to “swallow up death forever.” In C.S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia series, Aslan—the lion who represents Jesus—allows himself to be sacrificed by the White Witch. Yet when the children run to find his body, they find only the resurrected Aslan. Susan asks, “What does it all mean?” Aslan replied:
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back….She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
Outside of Lewis’ fantasy world, we know that it’s more than just “magic”—it’s the very power of God. The resurrection comes with the promise that the spell will one day be lifted. The resurrection is the promise of death working backwards.
Oh, dear Christian, think what this means. You’re going to see your little boy again. You’re going to see your mother. Your father. Your wife. Your friend. It’s not some metaphor. It’s not some wish. And it’s not some ghostly fantasy about sitting in the clouds playing a harp. You will feel the grass beneath your feet as you run and not grow weary. You will feel the wind against your face as it blows through the wild lilies and the heather. You will hear the songs of birds as it joins the laughter of friends. And you will feel the tears on your face as you finally stand before the king of the entire universe and know that finally—finally—you’ve come home, and the years of ruin behind you slip from memory as your heart awakens to a world that seems simultaneously so fresh and wild and alive and yet as familiar and faithful as an old friend.
Until then we, the church, join our voices together to sing these songs of redemption, these songs of freedom, these songs of hope, shuffling along with the throngs of others who limp their way toward the gates of the undying. Until then, oh Lord.